WVU quarterback Geno Smith has given Marshall fits in three previous meetings.
HUNTINGTON - In discussing West Virginia and quarterback Geno Smith on Monday, Marshall coach Doc Holliday threw out the "H" word.And in case the pundits didn't hear it the first time, Holliday repeated himself.Give that genosmith4heisman.com site a few sound bites!Holliday is the Mountaineers' first opposing coach in 2012, as the state rivals clash in the season opener at noon Saturday in Morgantown. And opposing coaches do tend to fluff up their opposition, at least publicly.The WVU alum and former Mountaineer assistant coach usually pays his appropriate respects, but doesn't lean toward Holtz-style (Lou or Skip) hyperbole. But on the Conference USA coaches' teleconference Monday, he let loose a little."They're one of the top 10 teams in America. They've got Geno Smith at quarterback - he should win the Heisman Trophy; he's picked to win the Heisman," Holliday said.Maybe not, but he's on a lot of short lists. For instance, CBSsports.com's "Heisman Pundit" Chris Huston ranks him No. 7.But that would be nitpicking to a coach who will lose what little sleep he gets trying to figure out how to stop Smith and his well-known weapons, receiver Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
"He's also picked to be player of the year in the Big 12, offensive player of the year," Holliday pointed out, most correctly. "And probably, if he wasn't picked, Tavon Austin would have been. With him and Bailey and Geno, they've got their entire, or most, of their offensive line back. They've got a great player at every position."And if you didn't get all that down the first time, Holliday rephrased his praise."We've got great respect for West Virginia; they've got a great team," he said. "They're probably the most talented team in their league, offensively, with the player of the year in Geno Smith, picked to be the player of the year, probably going to win the Heisman."There's your one-man straw poll.The "H" word did not come up in player interviews, but Herd defenders weren't exactly carving up their well-armed adversary. After seeing the film of WVU's 34-13 win over Marshall last year, their admiration has been renewed.
In three games, Smith has Marshall's number - 73 completions in 101 attempts, 712 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. That computes to a 144.56 NCAA passer rating, more than solid yet short of Heisman-esque.More impressive are the daggers Smith has thrown in the Thundering Herd's psyche. That started in 2009, when the freshman was pressed into service after the injury to Jarrett Brown and put the Mountaineers ahead 17-7 with a perfect TD pass to Alric Arnett.
In 2010, Smith deflated the party in Huntington with late TD drives of 96 and 98 yards. Last year, he directed the Mountaineers to scores in five of eight possessions.He has Marshall's full respect."His poise, his poise. He's real calm back there, and he reminds me of [Florida State's] E.J. Manuel," said safety Okechukwu Okoroha. "It seems like when the pressure's on him, he still sits there. He tries to move around the pocket and find a way to find somebody open."Okoroha's fellow safety and Boston College transfer, Dominick LeGrande, spelled out one goal in slowing Smith down: "Don't let Geno get into his comfort level, when he's just back there doing his thing. I think we need to get in his face and fluster him, make it hard on him."Holliday would like his defense to do that, yes, but he knows how difficult that really is."They're going to get their yards, and they're going to get their catches. You've got to do a great job of trying to minimize the great play, and when they do catch it, get them on the ground. Easier said than done when you've got guys like Stedman and Tavon catching it."
So that all begs a few questions: Can Marshall force Smith into mistakes? Even one mistake? Will Holliday toss the "H" word again after Saturday's game? Will he ride shotgun on the "Geno4Heisman" bandwagon?Sounds like an award-winning subplot. Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.