MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Geno Smith is really pretty much like everyone else when it comes to trying to figure out what has happened to West Virginia's offense.It's a mystery of sorts to him, too.Oh, sure, he can look at the way defenses have changed their plan of attack, but that's really not supposed to be a deal-breaker, right? Dana Holgorsen has been running this offense long enough that he's seen defenses try just about everything. The answer is to take what the other side gives you, and they always give you something.Smith's been given video cut-ups by quarterbacks coach Jakes Spavital showing the things he did in the first five games of the season and then in the last three. He insists that when he watches them there is no light-bulb-on moment.Instead, the West Virginia quarterback goes back to what he and Holgorsen and pretty much everyone else inside the Puskar Center have been preaching all along.Attitude. And confidence. And effort."We just have to go out with the mentality that we're going to score,'' Smith said. "We've got to be confident, we've got to play fast and we've got to play hard.
"Things haven't changed for us. I think we still have a really good offense. I just think we've been in a funk the past few weeks.''If West Virginia is going to right its ship in time to salvage this season, that had better happen fast. Riding a three-game losing streak, the Mountaineers (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) face some of their most difficult challenges the next three weeks. Saturday they go to Stillwater for a 3:30 p.m. game with Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-2). After that is a home game with No. 14 Oklahoma, followed by a road game at defensive-minded Iowa State.After scoring just three offensive touchdowns in back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State, the Mountaineers fared better against TCU, but still lost 39-38 in overtime last week."For the most part we sustained drives and put together some drives,'' Smith said. "But not in key situations, which is something we have to work on. But overall we did a pretty good job of just keeping the ball in play and moving forward.
"We didn't have many negative plays. We had some costly penalties here and there and we had a costly turnover that was all on me - bad read, bad throw, probably one of the worst of my career. It was just terrible. But overall we did some good things.''It's been nothing like the good things the Mountaineers did in those first five games, however, when they were scoring almost at will on opponents, even those with competent defenses like Maryland, which is No. 11 in the country in total defense.Holgorsen, while acknowledging that he and his staff must do a better job of preparation, also points to effort."We're playing with nine or 10 a lot,'' Holgorsen said. "If you have eight or nine that are playing with tremendous effort and one or two who aren't, then you're playing with eight or nine. We have to play better together.''
Some of it is merely execution, and the problems rest almost everywhere, including Smith. After throwing an NCAA record 273 passes without an interception to start the season (326 straight dating back to last season), he's now thrown three picks in his last 73 attempts and has been saved from several others by good fortune.His receivers also share blame. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said there were seven dropped passes against TCU, four of them on third-down throws."But those are just like any other bad play - an interception, a fumble, a missed block, whatever. It's part of the game,'' Smith said. "You just have to move on. You can't dwell on it.''As for the cut-ups given to him by Spavital, Smith no doubt saw some cringe-worthy plays, but his overall game hasn't changed, he said."It's just circumstances. Things don't always work out as well as you want them to,'' Smith said. "We were rolling the first five games and then we kind of hit an obstacle. It's just about staying the course, believing in yourself, believing in your teammates and coaches and just continuing to work toward the plan."It's getting better. We're making progress. We're working guys in and out of the rotation as far as receivers and backs and even some offensive linemen. We're going to have fresh bodies and be ready to play. You can't force the issue and try to make big plays. You take what the defense gives you, you move the chains and see what happens. Those are the little things that made us a good offense.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.