Holgorsen, Smith downplaying interception streak
MORGANTOWN - Aside from the obvious on-the-field benefits, one of the pluses of having perhaps the nation's most dynamic offense is that it draws attention. People want to talk about it.
And in the world of college football, where a high profile can only mean good things in terms of rankings and recruiting, having people talking about your program is a good thing.
Then again, some things Dana Holgorsen would prefer be left unsaid and under the radar. And that includes perhaps one of the most amazing statistics generated this season by Geno Smith and the West Virginia offense.
There aren't many things Smith has yet to do this season as the nation's top-rated passer and early front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, and the one thing that is absent from his resume everyone would prefer remain that way.
In five games he has yet to throw an interception. Actually, the streak goes back six games and includes January's Orange Bowl. It has now reached 258 passes, which for many quarterbacks constitutes a full season.
But shhhhh, Holgorsen says. Don't bring it up.
"The first step is to not talk about it,'' Holgorsen said. "But obviously when it comes to [the media], you're going to want to talk about it.''
Well, yes. Everyone wants to talk about it. It's right up there with the 656 yards and eight touchdowns against Baylor among the talking points that have served to grow the legend. Everyone knows about it and everyone talks about it.
Well, almost everyone.
"I'm aware of it, but I don't think about it,'' Smith said. "I don't go out there and try not to throw interceptions. I just play the game.''
For the record, the date on which Smith last threw an interception is rapidly approaching its anniversary. It was Dec. 1, 2011 - seven weeks shy of a year ago - and Smith needs no help remembering it. JaQuez Jenkins, a sophomore safety at South Florida, not only stepped in front of a short pass by Smith, he ran it back 24 yards for a touchdown.
It was Smith's second pick of the night - after he'd gone four straight games without one, by the way - and gave the Bulls a 27-20 lead. It would have kept West Virginia out of the Orange Bowl - imagine how the entire off-season might have been altered - had WVU not rallied, including a miraculous fourth-down pitch and catch between Smith and Stedman Bailey to set up Tyler Bitancurt's game-winning field goal that night in Tampa.
Again, for the record, since that interception by Jenkins, Smith is 206-for-258 (79.8 percent) for 1,485 yards, 30 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
At some point, doesn't that streak become almost overwhelming? Again, Holgorsen just went back to, in essence, denying it exists.
"We don't talk about it,'' Holgorsen said. "We talk about completions and putting the ball where you need to be putting the ball. From whatever play we're in, if his job is to go here, here and here, then he needs to go here, here and here and throw it to the open guy. The protection's got to be good and we have to run the ball well to keep some heat off of Geno as far as having to throw the ball into eight people who are dropping. And when the ball's in the air, it's up to the receiver to attack it and makes sure it is ours and not theirs.
"There are a lot of things that go into it that we coach. And we will continue to coach those.''
Without talking about the streak.
Again, for the record, well, the record for consecutive passes thrown without an interception is still way out there. Russell Wilson, when he was playing at N.C. State, threw 379 passes without having one picked off. That took him all or parts of 14 games over two seasons. It would likely be three games before Smith would have a chance at that one.
The mark for passes thrown in a single season without an interception, though, is closer. Trent Dilfer threw 271 for Fresno State in 1993. Smith has thrown 204 passes this season without an interception, so he's still not likely to have a chance at that one Saturday when No. 5 West Virginia plays Texas Tech in Lubbock. His season-high in attempts this year is 51, although he did throw 65 passes last year against LSU.
Not that Smith is considering where the records are, mind you. In fact, the items on Smith's plate to think about are so numerous that it took Holgorsen the run-on sentence of all time to go through them.
"He doesn't think about it throughout the game, I can assure you,'' Holgorsen said. "He's so tuned into what his job is and getting us in the right play and being competitive and looking at the scoreboard to see what we've got to do to win the game and how much time we've got left and creating the energy on the sidelines and cheering on the O-line and cheering on the defense and patting the receivers on the back.
"He's got a lot more on his plate than worrying about some silly little streak that doesn't mean anything.''
It's not just Smith's streak, either, as Holgorsen rightly points out.
"If you think he's the only one who can control that, you're nuts,'' Holgorsen said. "I know it's his stat, but everybody else can help control that.''
"It's kind of the result of having good receivers,'' Smith said. "They don't tip the ball in the air, they rarely drop it, they run crisp routes, they're always where I need them to be, on time.''
Eventually the streak will end. They all do. And when it does, well, it's merely the hope of Holgorsen and Smith that it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.
"He's probably going to throw an interception at some point,'' Holgorsen said. "Hopefully that one interception doesn't [prevent] us from winning the game because winning the game is a whole lot more important to Geno Smith than some little ol' streak that you guys talk about but we don't talk about.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1