The Front Five - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

The Front Five

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Michael Ploger, MORGANTOWN -

The Mountaineers offense can complete a scoring drive in what seems to be the blink of an eye.  However, when it comes to protection and the time Geno Smith has in the pocket, it might as well be all the time in the world.

Often overlooked by the numbers skill players are producing each week, the offensive line can be seen as an anchor to one of the best offensive units in college football.  The five guys up front have been the centerpiece to an offensive attack that ranks third in the FBS for yards per game.

The job is simple, keep Geno clean.  That's what the linemen and coaches emphasize each day of work.  They understand how big of a role they play in the outlook of this team.  Joe Madsen has been snapping the ball to Smith for three years now, and can't bare seeing his quarterback on the ground.

"It's like someone took my little kid and pushed him down," says Madsen.  It's one of those things where it's like, I know it's my fault because I wasn't behind him, I wasn't there protecting him.  It makes me feel bad because he's the heart and soul, he's the guy that throws touchdowns, makes the call.  If we don't have him, we're hurting."

Up front, in the trenches, could be the biggest battle on the field for each and every play.  Bodies are flying, coming in from different directions with one goal in mind, get to the quarterback.  But here's the thing, Geno Smith has yet to be sacked a single time this season.

Paul Millard hitting the ground once is the only casualty all season by the WVU offensive front.  It came against Marshall after the starters had been pulled in the fourth quarter.  But against James Madison this past Saturday, Geno Smith was forced to evade tacklers in the backfield.  He was also seen on the ground after he had already released the ball, something the front five are not comfortable with.

"They understand, they were disappointed, they were embarrassed," said offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh.   "That's the great thing.  If you look at the stat sheet from an offensive line standpoint with the yards, no sacks, we rushed for about five or six yards a carry, you think that's pretty good.  Well no that's not good enough, that stuff doesn't matter.  You got to compete with yourself to play the best that you can every snap."

The group is staying humble through the first two games of the season.  Yes, the numbers look great, as good as they can get, but this unit realizes there is room for improvement.

One thing that Spain, Jenkins, Madsen, Braun, and Eger try to do best is communicate with one another.  Teams can bring disguised blitz packages on any random play, and it's something they're always trying to figure out before it's time for the ball to be snapped.

There's also talking going on once the offense is on the sideline.  The five linemen can be seen on a bench by themselves talking about the previous drive and figuring out how to get better.  If they do experience a flaw, it won't be long till the problem is fixed.

"The biggest thing we talk about is obviously no sacks but our job is to keep Geno clean and not let him get touched," Bedenbaugh says.  "Obviously you don't want sacks and you don't want pressures and you don't want him getting hit, all that stuff goes together.  It's good right now but we got to constantly improve."

This offensive line embraces its role of protecting the quarterback and sprouting a big run.  When asked how much pride they have, it was obvious each player is doing whatever he can to perform at a very high level.

"Tons.  We all want to be that guy to make that play," Madsen continued.  "We all try to do it together and we all try to make those big hits when we can and we try to spring guys, so we take a lot of pride."

The Maryland Terrapins have perhaps the best defensive front seven the Mountaineers have seen so far this season.  As a defensive unit, they rank eighth in college football in yards per game, allowing just 227 yards per contest.  They also have eight sacks to add to the intimidation.

After Geno Smith was hitting the ground against James Madison, and the running game hit a few road bumps, it didn't seem like the same offensive line everyone saw against Marshall.

"It felt like the world was coming to an end," Smith joked.  "Obviously we hold ourselves to a high standard.  They were asking me if I was alright and picking me off the ground and that's something that's really positive.  I love those guys, I love the way they work."

Between the tackles of Spain and Eger, these guys have the confidence to believe they can hold any defense in the country.  But as the competition starts to heat up, it'll be interesting to see how the group responds to the pressure.

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