Legging it Out
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Geno Smith is clearly a different quarterback than the one he was earlier this year. For one thing, Smith is running the football more frequently. Coach Bill Stewart said before the Connecticut game that West Virginia’s offense was in need of Smith’s legs as much as his right arm.
So what gives, Geno?
“I’m healthier,” Smith explained. “I think back at the beginning of the year I was just coming off my surgery and everything was kind of iffy for me. I really had a lot of pressure on my shoulders and I was just trying to win games for the guys. But now I’m getting into my groove and developing as much as I thought I would around this time and I’m kind of hitting my stride right now.”
And Stewart thinks Smith’s running strides are the reason.
“Remember the UConn game when I told you we may run our quarterback more. We did,” said Stewart. “Then the last four games we ran him a lot with the option.”
According to Stewart, it was Smith’s option keepers that cleared the way for Tavon Austin’s 46-yard touchdown run against Rutgers.
“Tavon’s run would not have been successful without Geno kind of mesmerizing those ends and backers,” said Stewart. “They were kind of running a little exchange stunt on us and he was kind of pulling it and then, bang, he caught the linebackers’ eyes, he gave it, and gone.”
Smith as a runner won’t make people forget about Pat White, but he can run the football just enough to keep defenses honest.
“That has just made us a better football team, his ability to run – and not only the ability to run – it’s his decision making,” Stewart said. “He’s so much more confident now running the option and the quarterback draws.”
Smith says reading defensive ends is as much of an art form as reading safeties, and nobody was better at it than White.
“He made it look so easy and it’s not easy at all,” Smith said. “That guy was just so amazing.”
Think back to some of White’s biggest runs. They were correct reads he made in the option game or him simply taking off on bubble screens that were overplayed by the linebackers. Having a running threat at quarterback adds another dimension to the offense.
Smith said running has always been a part of West Virginia’s attack - it was just a matter of his foot being healthy enough to withstand the pounding from a 12-game regular season schedule.
“My foot is really getting stronger and getting acclimated to running,” Smith explained. “I’ve put on weight – just a lot of different things that have keyed that. Now I’m feeling better and moving a lot better as well.”
He is also playing much better. In his last four games against Cincinnati, Louisville, Pitt and Rutgers – all four Mountaineer victories – Smith has completed 56 of 85 passes for 871 yards. He is coming off a career-high 352-yard passing performance against Rutgers; he threw four touchdown passes in a 37-10 victory over Cincinnati and three touchdown passes in a 35-10 win at Pitt.
During that span West Virginia’s offense is averaging 31 points and nearly 400 yards per game.
“I think our offense is basically taking what the defense gives us,” Smith said. “I think the dimension of having (backup running back) Shawne Alston gives us that power look that has made defenses play us a little differently because we can spread you out or we can get in the I and run down your throat.”
One of the most important components of Jeff Mullen’s offense is staying on schedule, meaning second and fives and third and twos instead of second and 13s and third and 10s.
“Being on schedule is pretty much our motto on offense,” said Smith. “We don’t want to be in bad situations. We want to stay above the chains and not get in a lot of third and long situations when defenses can basically pin their ears back. I think the more we stayed on schedule and didn’t turn the ball over the better our offense has looked.”
Mullen says staying on schedule has happened more often this year than you might think, even when the Mountaineers were struggling in October.
“We have a win chart where we like to track certain statistics and one of the bigger statistics for us is what we’re doing on first and 10,” he said. “It’s always been that way. We’ve reached or exceeded that goal an awful lot this year and I think that’s a big part of any success to be at second and six or less and ultimately give you a third and short, which you’re going to have a better opportunity to execute.”
As a result Smith admits the game is really starting to slow down for him.
“I see a lot of things quicker and I’ve pretty much seen every defense out there,” he said. “Now I can see a defense and I understand our offense so well I can get us into the right play.”
Of all Smith’s outstanding traits, Mullen believes understanding the game may be his best.
“He understands very quickly numbers and angles and where the ball should go at times,” Mullen said. “When you get 12 games under your belt and more than 900 reps, you can’t get that experience. Football is different than most sports. You can’t go play a game of pickup or get into the batting cage - you’ve got to go do it. Now that he’s done it it’s really helped him a whole bunch.”
As much as Smith has developed this year, Mullen sees even more growth in the future.
“I think from this point on it’s going to be fun to watch him continue,” he said.
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