WVU boasts experienced, physical offensive line
West Virginia's quarterbacks were sacked 26 times last season. If that seems like a fairly high number, understand the Mountaineers' offensive line kept Geno Smith relatively clean for someone who attempted 526 passes.
“I have the utmost faith in those guys. I trust them to the fullest,” said Smith, who last year became the first quarterback in school history to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season.
Smith's success in the passing game correlates directly with his protection, as No. 11 West Virginia hosts Marshall in Saturday's noon opener at Milan Puskar Stadium.
If Smith is under duress or on his back, he won't have time to complete passes to a talented receivers corps. Showcasing a productive passing attack will complement the Mountaineers' running game.
“They're better than they were a year ago; they understand what we're doing a lot more, and they take pride in making sure (Smith) is doing OK behind them,” coach Dana Holgorsen said about his offensive line. “They take pride in knowing that if it's third-and-short, we're going to give it to (running back) Shawne (Alston) and get the first down.”
Playing worry-free in the pocket makes Smith, a Heisman Trophy candidate, happy and keeps the passing game productive.
“I'm going to stand back there with a lot of confidence and make my reads knowing that they're protecting me,” Smith said.
From left to right, WVU's offensive line starters are tackle Quinton Spain, guard Josh Jenkins, center Joe Madsen, guard Jeff Braun and tackle Pat Eger. They have made a combined 101 starts.
“Those guys, from an experience standpoint, have played a lot of football,” Holgorsen said.
Said offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, “My guys are playing physical and their whole attitude is different. They are getting close to the point where we want them.”
When Smith speaks about gaining a trust factor with his offensive line, Madsen realizes his quarterback's comfort level has never been higher. It makes Madsen even more determined to protect him.
When WVU faced Marshall in last year's 34-13 victory in the opener, Madsen admitted to experiencing growing pains.
“I don't know what I was doing. I looked like a freshman,” said Madsen, a redshirt senior. “My footwork was off, my technique was terrible. I'm a lot better now.
“It makes Geno so much more trusting, knowing that we know what we're doing.”
Note: A limited number of single tickets are available for the Marshall-WVU game. Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-800-WVU GAME or in person at the Mountaineer Ticket Office.
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.