Totally Different Expectations

Dana Holgorsen called West Virginia's offensive line ‘soft' against James Madison. Now, against its most difficult foe to date, WVU's front five looks for a complete-game performance.

The Mountaineers gained 569 total yards, scored on their first four possessions to amass a 28-0 lead and allowed quarterback Geno Smith the time to complete 34 of 39 passes for 411 yards. The backs? They rushed for 121 yards on 26 carries, including the game's opening score on a two-yard rush by Shawne Alston. The numerics, including 42-12 and an average of 55 points per game, are all good. What wasn't was a letdown period in the second quarter in which West Virginia had apparent communication issues and were not executing play calls.

"James Madison was pretty good," offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said. "They can beat a lot of teams. If it were last year, that (OL performance) might have been acceptable. Not to me, it wouldn't, but maybe understandable. This year, there are totally different expectations."

One of which is that, regardless of score, opponent or game time, the line showcases itself as indeed having five veteran players who can play, individually and as a whole, as among the better units in the country. Considering the across-the-board talent – Quinton Spain had 10.5 knockdowns against Marshall and Jeff Braun graded out the highest, while Josh Jenkins took knockdown honors against JMU – there shouldn't be many in-game lapses.

"With us scoring quick on four drives, I don't know that we put it in cruise, I think we had communication errors. We weren't sticking with calls," center Joe Madsen said. "We just needed to relax and bring it back (to basics)."

That concept will be imperative against a Maryland front three that Bedenbaugh says is the best unit the Mountaineers have thus far faced. Terrapin defensive end Joe Vellano is among the more technically gifted players WVU's tackles will match. The senior has 18 tackles, 4.5 for loss, and one sack. At 6-2, 285 pounds, Vellano isn't physically imposing – but can impose himself physically via his skillset.

"He's a tough kid, works hard. He's really good technically," Bedenbaugh said. "He is a blue-collar type of guy who gets after it. He is a senior, so he has seen a bunch of things. He knows how to read plays and understand what you are trying to do. You try to zone him and he reads that and fights through blocks. In pass pro, he uses his hands well. He doesn't overpower as much as uses good technique."

Vellano also flashes some quickness off the snap, so the tackles, and running backs in pass pro, will need to get off the ball well and stay low to counteract arguably Maryland's best defender. At 6-6, 304 pounds and 6-5, 334 pounds, Pat Eger and Spain have obvious size advantages that they must exploit. Maryland's other linemen, A.J. Francis (6-5, 305 lbs.) and Darius Kilgo (6-3, 300 lbs.) have solid size. Francis, a senior, has played in 37 career games and was a Freshman All-American. Kilgo is a promising youngster, and considered UM's nose tackle of the future.

"Our job is to keep Geno clean and not let him get touched," Bedenbaugh said. "There were a few times he got hit in the game and they outmanned us. That happens. We try to do the best we can with our five and the running backs to make sure he doesn't get touched. You don't want sacks, but you also don't want pressures and you don't want him getting hit. All that goes together."

Along with Smith getting the ball away faster. That was something Holgorsen touched upon in the postgame. Smith, at times, held the ball too long against James Madison. It didn't cost WVU in sacks, but the senior signal caller certainly won't be able to hold the ball upwards of five seconds against most BCS competition. Because of the delay in getting rid of the ball, Smith did get knocked down a few more times against the Dukes.

That didn't set well with the line, and that's something to watch against Maryland on Saturday. How is West Virginia's combination of protection and efficient pass play production? Is the line giving adequate, if not copious, amounts of time to throw, and is Smith progressing through reads well, and getting rid of the ball as needed? Also check the running backs in pass protection, and see if they are reading pressure correctly and picking up proper players on blitz attempts.

"It's like somebody pushed my little kid down," Madsen said of when Smith was hit. "It's one of those things where I know it's my fault. I wasn't there protecting him. He's the heart and soul. He's the guy who throws touchdowns and makes the calls. If we don't have him, we are hurting. … We came out (in practice) and got after it, beat up on the defense. We had a lot of fun and we're working hard."

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