MORGANTOWN - It's not often that Dana Holgorsen feels compelled to run to the defense of his quarterback. And why should he? How often does Geno Smith need defending?He certainly didn't after West Virginia's first two games of the season.That's when Smith established himself as one of Heisman Trophy favorites, if not the favorite. He had as many touchdowns (nine) as incompletions, threw for gobs of yards, wasn't sacked, ran the ball like he enjoyed it and conducted WVU's fast-paced offense as if he were Leonard Bernstein.Then came Maryland. Smith's two sacks were the first since just after Thanksgiving last year. He threw (gasp!) 10 more incompletions (13) than touchdowns and more than in the first two games combined. He lost 16 yards rushing (the sacks were the biggest reason, but he also gained only 8 yards on his four scrambles). And the offense that he mixed up so masterfully before gained just 25 yards on 25 rushes.What a bum, right? Stop the engraving on all those awards and somebody find Paul Millard a helmet.Or maybe not."You're talking about completing 70 percent of your passes, three touchdowns, zero interceptions. That's a pretty good day, isn't it?'' Holgorsen asked. "I mean, I know we're spoiled around here, but geez, that's still a pretty good day against a quality defense.''
Indeed, as a stand-alone, Smith's performance against Maryland was actually pretty remarkable. He completed 30 of 43 passes for 338 yards. His touchdown-to-interception ratio after a 3-0 day is now 12-0 this season and a staggering 18-0 dating back to January's Orange Bowl. He's also dropped back to pass roughly 180 times over that four-game span (his pass attempts plus his runs, most of which were scrambles) and been sacked only twice.The fact remains, however, that at least statistically the Maryland game was his worst of those four. OK, so perhaps that's like picking out the ugliest supermodel or the worst quarterbacking Manning from among Archie, Peyton and Eli, but still.Holgorsen and Smith both, however, will contest that Smith was anything less than superb even at his so-called worst."Anybody who can say something like that,'' Smith said, "obviously doesn't know football.''
Indeed, while one can nitpick the sacks and the incompletions and even establishing the running game through his decisions on whether to throw or hand off, it is wise to put the performance in its full context."I sat here and said [Maryland has] six or seven guys that are seniors and have played a whole lot of football that are pretty good,'' Holgorsen said. "Are we going to face better? Probably. But was it good? Yeah. Did we do what we had to do to win? Yeah, and I was proud of them for that. Was it average for our standards? Maybe. We'll try to get better.''Know this, though: Things are only going to get more difficult for West Virginia's offense in general and Smith in particular. It goes with putting up the kind of huge numbers that he's posted in the last four games."The game's going to change from week to week,'' Smith said. "You can look at the NFL and the guys there never put up the same stats from week to week.
"Everybody's competing and if you did well last week then [the defense is] going to come in with the idea that they don't want you to do as well this week.''It's hard to argue that Smith didn't play well even in the face of a defense determined to stop him. Holgorsen repeated the stats and added another, the fact that neither Smith nor any other Mountaineer turned the ball over."We put more on him in the pass game because we didn't do a very good job of getting our run game going,'' Holgorsen said. "They were doing some different things because we didn't establish the run and he still handled it. He got hit a couple of times and didn't allow that to affect his performance at all. So I think he's playing at a very high level. And last week I saw him do some things that he didn't do in the first couple of weeks.''Indeed, it's hard to see a lot of those things, but trust that they were there. If a quarterback can pretty much duplicate the numbers against a good defense that he had against lesser ones, he's doing some things that don't show up on the stat sheet."I make mistakes. I'm the first one to admit it,'' Smith said. "But at the same time, I try to improve on those mistakes every week, and what outsiders say doesn't really matter to me. At the end of the day we won the game and that's all that really matters.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
">email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.