West Virginia's Geno Smith shakes free from James Madison defender Tyler Snow.
MORGANTOWN - It was just under two months ago that both Geno Smith and Dana Holgorsen downplayed the quite visible change in Smith's body.After six months in the weight room, West Virginia's senior quarterback was bigger and stronger than he'd ever been. But how that might translate into improved performance wasn't quite clear."Other than it probably makes me a better NFL prospect, I don't think it does much for my game,'' Smith said at the Big 12's football media days in Dallas in late July. "Maybe I'll feel different and maybe I won't.''And this from Holgorsen:"We haven't won a game this year yet so I don't know if it does us any good or not,'' Holgorsen said at that same July gathering. "But it's not going to hurt.''Well, two games into the season, perhaps the proof is there. Smith's added size and strength, and even speed, has made a big difference.It's not readily evident in Smith's passing numbers. After all, he might be 66 for 75 for 734 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions without the added size and strength. He might even be averaging 41.5 yards rushing. A handful of successful scrambles might be enough to duplicate those numbers. He's done that in the past.But after those two games, in which Smith hasn't been sacked and has even shed tacklers at times, Holgorsen seems to be a committed believer that Smith's size is now an advantage.
"Something happens to guys when they're seniors, but his body is different,'' Holgorsen said Monday. "He's gained weight, he's bigger, he's stronger, he's faster, he's more confident.''And if one can get past the gaudy passing numbers, it is showing in his play."He's getting rushing yards because he's doing a good job of getting out of bad situations in the pocket and extending the play,'' Holgorsen said.That's unusual for a quarterback in Holgorsen's offense. He's had some good ones, of course, but few who could use their legs to the degree that Smith has done through the first two games.
"The best I've ever seen at that was Case Keenum. He had eyes in the back of his head,'' Holgorsen said of the former Houston quarterback, who played under Holgorsen early in his career. "Geno's not getting caught with the ball. He hasn't been sacked, he's gotten out of probably five or six situations that were potential sacks and he's extending plays. Sometimes he extends it by dumping to the backs or somebody in the flat, but if there's nobody there he's doing a good job of tucking the ball, having good ball security and getting up field to get us the first down.''There are, though, two things to consider when watching Smith become more of a running threat and using his 6-foot-3, 225-pound size to escape trouble. First, he's never going to be a running quarterback."If we wanted to we could do some things that would give him the label of being a running quarterback,'' Holgorsen said. "That's just not what our offense is. We're not going to work on zone reads and stuff like that.
"He could be considered a running quarterback if we wanted to tag him, but our offense isn't going to let you put that tag on him.''The second thing to consider is that things will only get more difficult from here. It begins with Saturday's noon home game with Maryland and then goes into nine straight games against Big 12 competition. Both passing and running, Smith's numbers - right now he has as many touchdowns (nine) as incompletions - will certainly dip a bit."I haven't personally been around a guy who's had those kinds of stats the first two games of the year, but it's obviously going to get harder,'' Holgorsen said. "We're going up against Maryland and I think they're the eighth-ranked defense in the country (227.3 yards allowed per game). It's going to get tougher this week. Athletically, it's going to get tougher."If he can continue to play like that against better competition - it's obviously going to get harder and harder in the Big 12 - then yeah, it's something special.''There is, of course, another thing that will define Smith's season. Right now the Mountaineers are 2-0 and ranked No. 8 in the country. How long the win total and the ranking continue to climb is the bottom line."I've said it for a long, long time, it's not surprising me that Geno's putting these stats up. He's a very motivated and competitive kid and he's been doing it in practice for the last month,'' Holgorsen said. "But ultimately it's going to be how we finish, how many games we win, which is what he's going to be remembered for.''
BRIEFLY: The Big 12 announced Monday that the Sept. 29 Big 12 opener with Baylor at Mountaineer Field will begin at noon and be televised by FX. ... Smith, of course, isn't the only Mountaineer near the top of NCAA statistics (he's second in both pass efficiency and total offense). Receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin rank 1-2 in pass receptions per game and Bailey is first in receiving yards per game. Bailey is also tied for second in scoring and linebacker Isaiah Bruce is tied for fourth in tackles.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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