Bad day revisited
MORGANTOWN - Geno Smith swears he doesn't keep any sort of mental lists of his best and worst performances as West Virginia's quarterback.
Surely if he did, though, last year's game against Syracuse would be on one, right? And not the good one.
"It wasn't my worst game,'' Smith said. "I don't know [what games were worse], but there's probably a couple that would be in the running for my worst game.''
Smith sounded for all the world like a guy who fully expected the questions about West Virginia's 19-14 loss to Syracuse a year ago and just wanted to dispense with them as quickly as possible. Why dwell on the past, or even bring it up, a full 12 months later?
It is, however, somewhat relevant because Smith will go against the same defensive scheme when the teams meet Friday night at the Carrier Dome. That's a pressure-heavy scheme that forced Smith into three interceptions and five sacks.
And everyone knows it's coming again.
"You have to adjust to what they're doing and just handle it. To say they're not going to pressure is the same as saying that we're not going to pass the ball,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "It's what they do and they're good at it. When they bring it, we'll have to be able to recognize it and block the guys that are coming. Geno will have to recognize it and know when he has to get rid of it or when he can hang on to it.''
The Syracuse defense now compared to a year ago is different only in a personnel sense, and even then in only a few spots. The Orange did lose two outstanding linebackers, but almost everyone else on the defense returns. That includes defensive lineman Chandler Jones and safety Olando Fisher, each of whom has missed the last five games with leg injuries but are healthy now.
Because it is virtually the same defense that harassed him so much a year ago, it is difficult to believe that at least somewhere in the back of his mind - or right there in the forefront, and he just doesn't want to admit it - Smith isn't itching to have a monster game and prove last year was a fluke.
But no, he said.
"I don't have anything to prove and that's over with,'' Smith said. "I can't dwell on that. I'm not the same player I was last year.''
So how was it that Syracuse rattled Smith and the entire West Virginia offense a year ago? Well, it was pretty simple, actually. The Orange came at Smith and blitzed him time after time, never allowing him to get into anything remotely resembling a rhythm. By the time his day was over, the then-sophomore first-year starter was just 20-of-37 for 178 yards, with those three picks and all those sacks.
Still, West Virginia had a chance to salvage the day when it took the ball in the fourth quarter and began what seemed destined to be a game-winning drive. The Mountaineers converted a couple of third downs and a fourth down along the way and made it to the Orange 20-yard line.
But again pressure snuffed it out. Smith was sacked twice and the drive - and the game - ended.
Expect more of the same Friday night when the teams meet. The situation is virtually identical to a year ago, when WVU was the only ranked team in the Big East, the clear and prohibitive favorite to win both the game and the league, and Syracuse had a solid record against relative nobodies.
This year the Mountaineers are No. 11 in the nation and again the prohibitive league favorites. Syracuse is 4-2, but could just as easily be 1-5 with narrow wins over the likes of Tulane, Toledo, Rutgers and even Rhode Island.
So just as was the case a year ago, expect the Orange to throw all sorts of pressure at Smith, given their underdog status and the No. 112 national ranking (out of 120) in pass defense. What's to lose?
"I think they've just played some really good passing teams,'' Smith said of Syracuse, which went into last year's game at WVU ranked 42nd in the country in sacks and came out of it ranked No. 20. "They show some things on film that we think we can attack, just like everyone does. But never are we going to take them lightly. We're not that good yet.''
Nor are the Mountaineers good enough to be thinking of last season and playing this one.
"I never dwell on games, good or bad. I watch it on tape and I just move past them,'' Smith said. "Each week's hard enough. We've got to take it one step at a time. Coach Holgorsen is doing a great job of just beating that in our heads.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.