Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Heisman Helper?

By Jordan Ingram
Main Line Life Sportswriter

While most Heisman Trophy winners on offense mostly come from skill positions, their production is only as good as their offensive line.
West Virginia’s Greg Isdaner is continuing to solidify his name by blocking for some of college football’s best athletes. Last season, the third year starter was a huge component to an offensive line that ranked in the top three nationally in rushing offense and in the top ten in fewest sacks allowed. His strength at 322-pounds also allowed him to register 57 knockdowns last season.
The former Episcopal star says that it’s not always an easy task blocking for a mobile quarterback like Pat White.
“It’s gets a little bit tricky at times because he sometimes he’s moving around the pocket and you don’t know where he is,” said Isdaner. “I’ll trade that disadvantage for his speed and playmaking ability…he’s the best quarterback in the country hands down.”
In White’s senior season with the Mountaineers he’s hoping that college experts feel the same as he’s one of the many candidates lobbying for the illustrious Heisman Trophy. The reigning Fiesta Bowl MVP will have more adversity to work through in winning the award than most with a new coach on the helm and a new offensive system.
The former Churchman also has certain adversity to work through heading into the final lap of his college career. Dave Jane will be Isdaner’s third offensive line coach at West Virginia and he missed spring drills recovering from a shoulder injury. The returning All-Big East performer shrugs off these issues and believes that the time off makes him a better player.
“In a way it’s a good thing because it allows me to re-charge my battery,” said Isdaner. “When I get back I’m ready to go and I play at a much more furious pace in practice and the weight room.”
With dynamic personality Rich Rodriguez coaching in Michigan this season, White and Isdaner alike will have to assimilate into first-year head coach Bill Stewart’s more pass-oriented offense. Often criticized for his arm and passing ability, Isdaner thinks that people will be shocked this season.
“We feel like we need more balance [on offense] where in previous years we rushed for all of those big numbers,” Isdaner said. “I think that a very underrated part of Pat White’s game is his ability to pass. People think that he can’t pass because he hasn’t had the opportunity.”
The offensive lineman knowledge of his quarterback comes from the fact he blocked for him a total of 850 plays last season including a season-high 88 against USF. Isdaner added that the fact that White’s been drafted on two occasions by MLB teams as an outfielder speaks volumes about his arm strength.
“He’s an excellent thrower…you have to have a great arm to be drafted straight out of high school in the fourth round by the Anaheim Angels,” Isdaner exclaimed. “The way he throws in practice has people on the team wondering why we didn’t pass the ball more last year.”
In past seasons, the 6-foot-4 Isdaner’s job was very predictable as a majority of the offense was based on the run. The past three seasons, Isdaner’s protected the potent one-two punch rushing attack of White and running back Steve Slaton. Against Pittsburgh in 2006, White and Slaton became only the third tandem in NCAA D-I history to both rush for 200+ yards in the same game.
Replace Slaton (currently a rookie on the Houston Texans) with Noel Devine and Isdaner still plans to be blocking for one of the top rushing teams in the nation. Heading into their home opener against D-IAA Villanova, the Gladwyne native is hoping to put forth his best effort.
“It’s pretty crazy because Villanova is a place that didn’t get too involved [recruiting] me in high school and I’m excited to go out and prove to the coaches that it’s somewhere where I could’ve played,” Isdaner said. “I didn’t get much respect coming out of high school recruiting-wise but that was at that time and there’s no place I’d love to be than [West Virginia] now.”
Isdaner says that the game against the Wildcats is a unique situation and it will be a good experience to play in front of a lot of friends he has at Villanova. While he hasn’t spoken too much to his friends at Villanova, he believes the Mountaineers are more occupied with getting a victory and not being upset in Appalachian State-like fashion.
“We work very hard to make sure that we’re not beat because we’re not ready to compete on that particular game day,” said Isdaner. “If a team’s going to beat us they’re truly going to have to be better and we really think we can win every game on our schedule.”

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