The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 30, 2011

WVU O-line takes step forward

MORGANTOWN — Sometimes it takes facing the best to bring the best out in someone, and so it was with West Virginia University’s much-maligned offensive line last weekend.

Louisiana State University, then the nation’s No. 2 team and today wearing the crown that sits atop the head of No. 1, came into Milan Puskar Stadium only to find the WVU line in an angry mood and ready to do some blocking.

“The offensive line did a heck of a job at blocking,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Pass protection was great.”

Great? Sixty-five passes from quarterback Geno Smith, no sacks.

Certainly that’s a statistic that probably has never been matched, so few teams in college football history having thrown as many as 65 passes.

It certainly has never been matched by an offensive line that had been questioned so much about its ability. Maybe it’s now time to stop the questioning.

“I’d say this was validation. We always knew we had it in us. It was just time to prove it and we came out and proved it,” Madsen said.

So how did this unit take such a big step forward at just this time? What is the secret to success?

Bill Bedenbaugh, the offensive line coach, says everyone really knows what it takes.

“There’s really no secrets in playing good,” he said. “You have to prepare to the best of your ability, believe in what you’re doing, believe in what we’re doing and go play confidently. That’s what they did.”

“It just goes back to the practice field,” said guard Jeff Braun. “I think as a whole we’ve all been practicing harder. Everyone goes out there with a chip on their shoulder. Each one of us individually has taken it upon ourselves to get ourselves better and we’re better as a unit for it.”

“It’s definitely improvement. We’re getting better every week,” Madsen said. “That’s what you’re looking for, to move on up that ladder. We finished blocks and we got pass blocks down and our communication was better.”

Nothing new, just more effort, more preparation … and maybe a little help from their friends for the offensive line.

“People don’t understand what’s involved in pass protection,” Bedenbaugh said. “Geno got hit three times when he shouldn’t have been hit. He got hit pretty hard, yet he got rid of the ball. They easily could have been sacks. When he got hit, our receivers ran hot. Our backs blocked well. Obviously the line did a good job. There’s a lot more that goes into pass protection than just the offensive line.”

And Bedenbaugh downplays the fact that the improvement came against LSU.

“Everyone made a big deal out of the opponent. They’re this and they’re that, but it doesn’t matter who we are playing. We’re good enough that if we prepare the way we’re supposed to and play the way we’re supposed to, we’ll be fine,” he said.

It has been a long time since anyone has heaped praise on the WVU offensive line. It was mostly the whipping child for the offensive ills over the last two seasons, but the new offense and the new coaching approach — a hard-nosed, tough love attitude — seems to have made a difference.

Certainly, there is no coddling the linemen.

Redshirt freshman Quinton Spain, a mountain of a man at 6-5 and 330 pounds, was pressed into action at left tackle when Pat Eger went down with an ankle injury. Spain, himself, has been coming back from such an injury but this would be his first extensive playing time and someone wondered how he had played.

“[He was] lazy, much like he is in practice. Big, massive guy, who has good feet. But, right now, he does things on his time and not our time. Eventually, he’ll be a great player.” Holgorsen said.

Bedenbaugh echoed the thoughts when asked how this future star had played.

“He played OK … OK,” Bedenbaugh said. “The biggest thing with Spain is he has to practice better. He has as much talent as anyone on our offensive line, but he has to practice better, prepare better and do it every week.”

One might say there is a message there from the coaches.

Now it becomes very important that they carry the improvement over to this week’s Bowling Green game, that will be played at Milan Puskar Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

“We have to keep moving on, get better in every phase of the game,” Madsen said.

“It’s a not about constant improvement, it’s about daily improvement in everything we do,” Bedenbaugh said, offering a challenge. “We pass blocked pretty good, but we didn’t pass block as well as we can.”

NOTE: Linebacker Doug Rigg announced on his Facebook page Thursday that he suffered a broken wrist and underwent surgery.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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