If you saw Geno Smith after last Saturday’s blowout loss to Kansas State you would think the weight of the world was on his shoulders.
He was understandably down and his comments reflected that.
“This is one of those things where we have reached our low,” he said. “This is as low as it gets. I have never dealt with an adversity of this magnitude. I have never lost two games in this manner. I have to do a better job of being a leader, stepping up and getting guys to respond. I am going to do that – I am going to dig deep. I have to look myself in the mirror and just figure out ways to get better.”
The impression you got after reading Geno’s comments was that he is taking sole blame for the team’s struggles the last two weeks against Texas Tech and Kansas State.
In both games, the offense only put up 21 points (seven points came on a Tavon Austin kickoff return against Kansas State) and 14 of those came late in the game when the outcome was already decided.
Yes, the offense has grounded to a halt, but Smith is far from the cause. Coach Dana Holgorsen made that clear during his weekly news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
“He is one of many positions that play football here,” said Holgorsen. “If he thinks that all of this falls on his shoulder then he is sadly mistaken. He is one of our leaders, and he is a tremendous football player. He cares more than anybody. He is responsible for a lot of points and a lot of wins, but this doesn’t fall on his shoulders. This falls on all our shoulders – all of our coaches and all of our players. He is only one piece to everything.
“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 continued. “If that is all he worries about, then he is going to be more productive. He needs to relax a bit and not bear the burden. We are going to get him back on track.”
The last couple of weeks, Holgorsen has talked repeatedly about getting more production from his running game and how that will ultimately help out Smith in the passing game. Mountaineer runners averaged 3.7 yards per carry against Texas Tech and 3.3 yards per rush against Kansas State – not a terrible yards-per-carry average - but those figures are very deceptive because most of West Virginia’s rushing yardage in those two games came in the second half when the outcome was already decided.
In the first half, the Mountaineer ground game managed only 30 yards on 12 carries against Tech and 12 yards on seven totes against Kansas State. Compare that to the 84 yards produced against Texas by halftime, the 85 yards at halftime against Baylor and 223 yards WVU had at the half versus Marshall.
Consequently, with the threat of the running game removed in the second half of those two games, defensive linemen could pin their ears back and rush Smith and the linebackers no longer had to worry as much about their run responsibilities and could help out in pass coverage.
Of course, it’s far easier defending something when you know what to defend. Holgorsen also said West Virginia’s receivers have to do a better job of getting off the ball.
“Texas Tech was more press (coverage) and we didn’t handle the press very well at receiver,” he said. “Geno was not very accurate down the field. Against Kansas State, the pass rush was very good. They were rotating a lot of guys and they were athletic. There wasn’t a specific guy we were scared of, but we were aware of them. They did a good job of getting to us, but their corner coverage was off. We should have done a better job of completing the ball underneath. It’s a combination of a lot of things.”
Holgorsen indicated that a good portion of this week has been spent working on those things.
With technique and fundamental work now done for the week, Holgorsen and his staff will be out on the road looking for players this weekend, including scouring several junior colleges in search of immediate help.
“We will be in Arizona, Kansas, Texas and Mississippi,” said Holgorsen. “We will hit all of those this week. We will be seeing a bunch of games Friday and Saturday and we will see a lot of guys.”
Holgorsen said full TCU prep will begin on Sunday.
More weekend notes …
- The No. 1 topic of conversation this week on the blogs and chat boards has been about West Virginia’s defensive struggles. The Mountaineers are giving up almost 500 yards per game, and more alarmingly, teams are averaging nearly 40 points per game.
There are many causes, but Holgorsen says the defensive scheme West Virginia is using is not one of them.
“We have tried to cover some areas up,” he said. “Within our defensive scheme, there are different coverages and blitzes. If it doesn’t work, we can go to another one. It is a multiple defense. When they hit us on a cover two with a seam route, we went to cover three. When they started to hit us on out routes, we went to press and bail, cover four. We mix things up but ultimately it comes down to execution.”
Holgorsen said it’s just a matter of players simply having to play better.
“You saw guys where a couple of times the ball was in the air and we had a guy there,” he said. “(West Virginia’s opponent) made the plays. How can we get our guys in any better position than that? We constantly try to tweak it.
“We are putting you in a position to be successful now the player has to take over, but as coaches we have something to do with that, too,” Holgorsen added. “We have to do our best as coaches and they have to make the play. We have to do a better job of that as coaches and as players.”
- I recall a conversation I had a while back with College Football Hall of Fame linebacker Darryl Talley and his opinion on the defensive struggles that West Virginia endured during his early years in the program in 1978 and 1979. Finally, after getting mauled on a student body sweep by Penn State’s Matt Suhey, Talley remembered going back to the huddle, putting his helmet back on (Suhey had knocked it off) and looking at his buddy Dennis Fowlkes and both agreeing that enough was enough. They were finished getting beat on. It’s was time to start beating on other people! And they did.
That may be what this year’s defense needs – somebody to just walk into the huddle and say enough is enough!
- Former Mountaineer coach Don Nehlen will speak at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon in Canton, Ohio, on Monday, Oct. 29. Nehlen is a Canton Lincoln High grad who went from being a Stark County high school coach to the College Football Hall of Fame at West Virginia University.
Nehlen is among the few speakers that have made more than a dozen appearances at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon throughout the years.
Bob Huggins has also been a frequent speaker at this event.
- Speaking of Huggins, the impression I am getting is that he really likes his basketball team this year. He seems to have a pretty good blend of experience, athleticism and shooting that was missing from last year’s squad. He also believes getting Kevin Noreen back will help out immeasurably.
When you look at Noreen’s stat line from a year ago (2.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game) you ask: How can a guy who averaged less than 3 points and 3 rebounds per game be that missed? Well, Huggins has an explanation.
“We were 15-6 when Kevin Noreen got hurt and everybody said, ‘Well, he only got four points per game’ or whatever but what he did was give us 18 minutes that I could rest K.J. (Kevin Jones) and Deniz (Kilicli) and I couldn’t do that (after he got hurt),” Huggins said. “You all know that at the end of the year Deniz was having a hard time changing ends of the floor. We didn’t have subs. If we can stay healthy, we’ve got as good a chance as anybody, I think.”
- A few weeks ago, Huggins was asked what he thought former Duquesne coach Ron Everhart could bring to the Mountaineer program this season. His answer was telling.
“I’m probably the only guy in the country with three former head coaches (Everhart, Larry Harrison and Billy Hahn) on the staff,” Huggins said. “Ronny has seen a lot – a lot of different styles, a lot of different ways of doing things and that’s good.”
Huggins said at one point earlier this fall he was planning to have all of his assistants get together for a weekend of brainstorming at his cabin but they could never get all of their schedules lined up to do so.
“It’s always something and we didn’t get a chance to do that,” Huggins said. “I think anytime you get new ideas it’s a good thing. It kind of reinvigorates you a little bit.”
- West Virginia is still waiting on the eligibility status of Ukrainian forward Volodymyr Gerun, who was held out of last Friday’s Gold-Blue Debut. Gerun averaged 18.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game at the Under-18 European Championships last year and gives the Mountaineers another big body in the paint.
Huggins had this preseason assessment of Gerun: “He’s probably our most skilled big. He’s a pick and pop guy. He’s a guy who can make shots in the high post and in the short corner,” Huggins said. “He passes the ball pretty well and he’s big – he’s going to be bigger than Deniz when it’s all said and done. He’s 18 years old now and he’s not cut up like Deniz is cut up, but he’s wider. He’s got bigger shoulders and he’s going to end up being a bigger guy.”
- Did you realize that West Virginia went from a league (Big East) that has four teams ranked in this year’s SI.com preseason Top 25, including No. 1-ranked Louisville, to the Big 12 where only two teams are preseason ranked (Kansas and Baylor)?
The Jayhawks are obviously now in a position of reloading each year, but did you also realize that they must replace 34 points per game in Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor? Still, Kansas was once again the unanimous preseason pick to win the league with Baylor earning the other first-place vote.
“We have great experience with our senior class that’s been through a lot of battles, and we have a lot of puppies, seven freshmen, so I think it will be a good team in time,” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “I don’t think that we’ll be great early – I think we have a process that we have to go through.”
Meanwhile, Baylor lost three players to the NBA last year and will rely more on an experienced back court this season.
“When you lose three players to the NBA and return a lot of people in the back court, it kind of changes some things that you do,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “Five, six years ago we had a lot of guards and this year we’re more similar to one of those teams. I think coaches will tell you it’s great to have experience, talent and depth at the guard position, especially early in the year.”
Oklahoma State and Texas should also be factors in the league race, as well as West Virginia, which was picked sixth in the preseason poll. All of the coaches out in Kansas City for last week’s Big 12 media day were in agreement that sixth place was far too low for a Bob Huggins-coached team.
Have a great weekend!
Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.
Geno Smith, Bob Huggins, Dana Holgorsen, Don Nehlen, West Virginia University Mountaineers, WVU
Michaela Abam - La Salle Pregame
WVUsportsBuzz presented by U.S. Cellular
Nikki Izzo-Brown - La Salle Preview
United Bank Playbook
Mario Alford - Oklahoma Pregame
Tony Gibson - Oklahoma Pregame