MORGANTOWN - After West Virginia had suffered its second consecutive lopsided loss last weekend, there was no shortage of available bodies willing to take the blame.It started with head coach Dana Holgorsen, quickly spread to defensive coordinator Joe DeForest and flowed almost seamlessly to various other coaches and players.No one, though, pointed an accusatory finger at himself more than Geno Smith.He blamed himself for turnovers, for poor decisions in running the offense and for a lack of leadership."I have to find a way to help guys make plays,'' West Virginia's senior quarterback said. "I did a poor job of that.''But while Smith's performance in losses of 49-14 at Texas Tech and 55-14 to Kansas State certainly did not approach the level he'd managed to maintain throughout a 5-0 start, he had plenty of assistance in the team's downfall.It's one thing to take responsibility, quite another to try to shoulder the entire blame. Holgorsen has apparently let Smith know that.
"Geno and I have talked. He doesn't need to say that,'' Holgorsen said. "He's one of many positions that play football here. If he thinks that all of this falls on his shoulders, then he's sadly mistaken.''Indeed, however a lot of what West Virginia does falls on Smith's shoulders. The very fact that he was the clear Heisman Trophy front-runner through that 5-0 start illustrates the point.Not only had he put up huge passing numbers, he was being credited by Holgorsen for making nearly all the right decisions in guiding the team's offense.As Holgorsen himself pointed out just this week, coaches can only do so much in the way of putting players in position to succeed. Ultimately the players have to make plays and Smith had made just about all of them.
The offense was so good, in fact, that for five weeks it made up for a defense that couldn't stop anyone and special teams play that was spotty, at best. It was in great part because of the way Smith was playing.Then in the last two weeks that offense has suddenly become as inept as the defense. Against Kansas State, for instance, the WVU defense was 0-for-8 in stopping the Wildcats' first eight possessions. The offense, meanwhile, was 0-for-8 on its first eight possessions.But that can't fall entirely on Smith. Holgorsen apparently needs to make that clear to his quarterback, lest he become overburdened with the responsibility and allow it to affect his play even more."He's one of our leaders and he's a tremendous football player. He cares more than anybody. He's responsible for a lot of points and a lot of wins,'' Holgorsen said. "But this doesn't fall on his shoulders. This falls on all our shoulders - all of our coaches and all of our players. He's only one piece to everything.''
In the last two weeks, though, that piece has sputtered. Granted, it is because of a combination of things and Smith can't be responsible for all of them, including the play of his offensive line and receivers. But the numbers show a sharp decline.Through five games, Smith was completing 81.4 percent of his passes for an average of just under 400 yards, with 25 touchdowns and no interceptions. In the last two games he is completing 57.5 percent of his passes for an average of 209 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.Few would be willing to argue that Smith has suddenly become just an average quarterback. It would perhaps be easier to argue that he has simply taken too much upon himself. He sees opponents scoring at will and tries to match them. If he doesn't, he tries even harder and it gets even worse.That's what Holgorsen is trying to stop."For him to be at his best, he needs to understand that the only thing he can do is take the snap and go where we want him to go with the ball,'' Holgorsen said. "If that's all he worries about then he's going to be more productive."He needs to relax a bit and not bear that burden. We're going to get him back on track.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.