By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Sports are like the weather. Don’t like what’s happening, wait a second; it’ll change.
For example, a week ago it was all sunshine shining on the West Virginia University offensive line.
They were laughing and joking, and why not, having just laid 69 points on Marshall and, in the process, played as good a game as they could ever imagine playing in a season opener.
The only question was whether they should be inducted as a group into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame before this week’s Maryland game or wait until all of them had graduated.
Well, after beating James Madison, 42-12, last Saturday, it appeared the only way that group would be able to get into the hall of fame was with a ticket.
It wasn’t that they were bad.
It’s just that they weren’t good.
And there’s a difference there.
Offensive tackle Quinton Spain, the biggest of the linemen and the one who played the best in the JMU game, explained it this way.
“Last week we were on the same page in communication; we were trusting each other. This week we weren’t communicating like that. We weren’t echoing the calls and all that stuff, so we weren’t on the same page, and it made us look bad.
“Like we scored on the first four drives, but we still had a lot of mistakes, missing assignments and stuff because we weren’t on the same page.”
Let’s say that’s kinder than the way their head coach, Dana Holgorsen, and their offensive line coach, Bill Bedenbaugh, put it to them in their Sunday team meeting.
“The offensive line didn’t play good,” Holgorsen said in his press conference on Tuesday. “They were soft, and communication wasn’t very good.”
There probably isn’t a stronger criticism of an offensive line than to call it soft.
Three-hundred-pound men in various stages of beards and with haircuts that range from Mohawk to shoulder-length do not want to come across as soft.
“They understand. They were disappointed. They were embarrassed,” Bedenbaugh said.
None of this would be obvious if you hadn’t seen the game. The statistics sheet certainly didn’t indicate anything was wrong, WVU piling up yardage, quarterback Geno Smith going without being sacked for a second straight game … but he certainly got pinballed around a lot in the backfield.
“We don’t care how many yards we had. If you look at the stat sheet, it’s crazy,” Bedenbaugh said.
“Look at the yards, no sacks, we rushed for about 5 or 6 yards a carry, which is good, but that stuff doesn’t matter.”
See, what happened was that the offensive line did not play up to its capabilities, no matter what the stats said.
“You have to compete with yourself and play the best you can every snap,” Bedenbaugh said.
Part of it could be the fact that the opener was a rivalry game while the second outing was against a FCS opponent in James Madison, and perhaps the Mountaineers didn’t take it as a serious challenge.
Bedenbaugh said that may be a reason but not as excuse.
“It doesn’t matter who you play. That’s what you try to get across to them,” Bedenbaugh said. “We came out and scored four straight times, so I think we did get that across. But once you get to that point you can’t settle … you can’t become complacent.
“I know these are kids, and they are getting talked to on the outside and being told how good they are, but that shouldn’t happen. It shouldn’t happen if they’re telling you how bad you are. It doesn’t matter.”
What Bedenbaugh is trying to embed in this offensive line is that it doesn’t matter who the opponent is, what the score is, what happened on the last play.
“The only thing they have to worry about it coming in here every day and preparing and practicing the right way … which they have done. Now it has to carry over to the field,” he said. “You can’t get complacent. You can’t think this is going to be easy. James Madison wasn’t going to let it be easy.”
Football is a different game than baseball or basketball or hockey, games where you make a mistake and you are back out there in a day or two competing again, making amends.
In a football season, you play at most 13 games in maybe 20 weeks.
Complacent? Not play at your highest level?
“It shouldn’t be that way. You only get so many chances to play a game,” Bedenbaugh said. “It shouldn’t matter what the score is, what the time on the clock says, you have an opportunity get better. You’re not just playing for that game. Obviously, that’s the only thing you are worried about but you are constantly trying to improve for the next week and the next week.”
So Spain stood tall, but so what, said Bedenbaugh.
“It’s not about Spain. It’s about all five. The other four did not play anywhere near up to our standards,” the coach said. “We talked about it and I’d be sure it’s not going to happen again.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @bhertzel.