Madsen’s absence felt on West Virginia offensive line
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 00:01
When West Virginia took the field against Syracuse for the Pinstripe Bowl Dec. 29 in the Bronx, the Mountaineers were already without one of their most vital players.
Redshirt senior center Joe Madsen, who started in all 50 games during his career as a Mountaineer, was left home after West Virginia’s coaches declared him academically ineligible for what would have been the senior’s final game, the 2010 Champs Sports Bowl.
Madsen was an All-Big East first-team selection last season.
Official word finally came Dec. 26 in New York that Madsen hadn’t even made the trip, when West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen formally announced his frustration with the senior offensive lineman.
"(It’s) disappointing that he didn’t take care of business," Holgorsen said in a press conference at Yankee Stadium. "The expectation for our guys is to go to class, and to get good grades and leave West Virginia with a good, quality education and a degree. And Joey fell short of that, and we’re disappointed that he did."
One day later, Holgorsen said he had 21 seniors he was proud of this year, all except one.
Fellow senior offensive lineman Jeff Braun, who has started the majority of his career games at either the guard or tackle position, was put into the starting center role for the Mountaineers in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Braun said before the game he hadn’t taken a snap at center since 2009 when he was used as a backup at the center and guard position, but he said after the game that the adjustments weren’t as difficult as he thought they would be.
"I felt it went well," Braun said after the game. "Obviously, at the end of the game we had that bad exchange, but I felt like I snapped the ball pretty well, didn’t find any difficulties, and it was pretty easy to slide to protection, communication went well. So me being at center really didn’t change anything."
Despite Braun’s claims everything went somewhat smoothly, what actually unfolded under the lights Saturday in Yankee Stadium depicted a slightly different story.
First of all, the West Virginia offensive line allowed senior quarterback Geno Smith to be sacked four times, which tied a season-high for a single game this season.
One of those sacks directly resulted in a forced fumble and a safety, which could have easily been a touchdown if left tackle Quinton Spain hadn’t fallen on the loose ball in the end zone. There were also countless times that Smith was hurried or knocked down by the relentless Syracuse defensive front.
In addition to the surplus of pressure Smith faced, West Virginia’s running backs found very little running room on the day. The Mountaineers rushed 37 times for a grand total of 88 yards, less than 2.5 yards per carry. West Virginia came into the game averaging nearly twice that on the season.
Penalties were also abundant for the shuffled WVU offensive front.
The team racked up 10 total penalties for 105 yards – five of which committed by an offensive lineman – including false starts, a block in the back and a few major holding calls that negated big plays by Tavon Austin.
Additionally, Holgorsen noted in his postgame press conference that the change in personnel actually forced senior quarterback Geno Smith to take more snaps under center against Syracuse in the bowl, especially early in the game.
Smith clearly struggled to find any rhythm at all in his last ever game as a Mountaineer, and one can’t help but wonder just what kind of effect having to take snaps under center for the majority of the game did to the confidence and tempo of the most prolific passer in the school’s history.