LANDOVER, Md. - Mickey Matthews was full of praise for Geno Smith Saturday evening. And why not?After all, the James Madison coach had just watched Smith, West Virginia's senior quarterback, dissect his James Madison football team for 411 passing yards and five touchdowns. Smith was so good that, for the second week in a row, he had as many touchdowns as incompletions.In games against Marshall and JMU this season, Smith is now 66-for-75 for 734 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions.Oddly enough, though, Matthews reserved his highest praise for Smith not addressed to his throwing, but his ability to move around in the pocket.At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds after an off-season of weight and strength training, Smith is looking more and more the part of a big, strong, NFL-style quarterback."You just can't sack the guy. He's quicker than our defensive linemen,'' Matthews said. "When I was at Georgia, we used to play Peyton Manning [at Tennessee], and that was the biggest problem we had with him. We couldn't sack Peyton because he was bigger than our defensive linemen."That's what Geno is. We're big up front defensively, but we couldn't bring him down.''Indeed, once again - this is the third straight game - Smith was not sacked. It didn't happen in the Orange Bowl rout of Clemson or the opener against Marshall or in Saturday's 42-12 win over James Madison at FedEx Field.Yes, Smith was hit a few times by the Dukes, which was actually unusual. Marshall managed to hit him only once two weeks ago in the opener.Smith's weight and strength make a difference now. Just before the end of the first half, Smith was drilled perhaps as hard as he will be hit all season. It came just after he released a pass and was a clean hit, nothing late or dirty.
The thing about it, though, was that Smith bounced right up. One of the guys who hit him, 6-2, 210-pound safety (and Maryland transfer) Titus Till, did not. He remained on the ground and had to be helped up and off the field.Afterward, Smith shrugged off his added size and strength."I've always taken some hits,'' he said. "Fortunately, I probably have some strong bones.''But if Smith doesn't see it as a big advantage, others do, including Matthews."He's a big guy,'' Matthews said. "And he plays that way.''
As well as West Virginia has played - and as easily as the Mountaineers have won - in the first two games of the season, there are a couple of nagging issues that tend to stand out.The punting is still horrendous and the short-yardage game needs some work.Coach Dana Holgorsen correctly said that his team probably improved in all three areas - offense, defense and special teams. The special-teams improvements came elsewhere, though, such as covering kicks and not making errors in fielding punts. Corey Smith did a good job kicking off and Tyler Bitancurt was perfect on PATs.But the one time Smith was asked to punt he sent it out of bounds for just 24 yards and set up JMU's only score against the WVU defense, a 33-yard field goal.As for the short-yardage game, well, for the second week in a row Holgorsen went for it on fourth down and failed, this time near midfield. Not only that, when WVU needed a short-yardage game to get out of the shadow of its own goal, it wasn't there. Shawne Alston got tackled for a safety.
Holgorsen regretted the fourth-down call for reasons that cover both of those deficiencies."That was my fault. In hindsight we probably should have punted it,'' Holgorsen said. "Besides, our punt team probably needed the work.''BrieflyThe most meaningless stat in the world as far as WVU's offense is concerned is time of possession. It was proven again Saturday when the Mountaineers controlled the ball 241/2 minutes and JMU 351/2.The last time WVU had two receivers with 10 or more catches in a game was Mickey Walczak (12) and Mark Raugh (10) at Syracuse in 1981. Stedman Bailey (13) and Tavon Austin (11) did it Saturday.The announced crowd of 45,511 - FedEx Field officials came up with the number, which might have been stretching it - between two schools a combined 350 miles away was about 10,000 more than Maryland drew for the Randy Edsall vs. Connecticut game a few exits up the Beltway.
By the way, Edsall and the Terps, who lost 24-21 and fell to 2-1, are at Mountaineer Field for a noon game next Saturday, WVU's final non-conference game of the season.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.