WVU quarterback must learn to trust the offense
MORGANTOWN - Late in the first half Saturday, Geno Smith hurried his West Virginia offense to the line of scrimmage so he could sneak in a run on fourth-and-1. He figured it was a fine idea until he snapped the ball and realized the problem.
The Mountaineers quarterback couldn't remember lining up under center all season.
"We've never worked on it," he said following No. 13 WVU's 43-16 victory against the Huskies. "It was something I totally ad-libbed and it didn't work for us. It's something that backfired and something I shouldn't have done in that situation, but the competitor in me got the better of me at that point. I tried to do it on my own and no one else knew what was going on."
Smith ended up losing a yard and then his helmet. He got no help from his surprised offensive line.
"Everyone was like, 'What's going on?'" Smith said. "I took the snap and the tackles started pass blocking. The guards just stood there. It was like I tried to go 1-against-11."
The turnover on downs gave the Huskies (2-4, 0-1 Big East) the ball at their 41-yard line with 55 seconds left in the second quarter.
They ended up kicking a 22-yard field to send the Mountaineers (5-1, 1-0) into the locker room up 10-9 as much of a Mountaineer Field crowd of 56,179 groaned.
"It just seemed like everything was so hard out there," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "You can look at the final score, but it seemed harder than that."
The Mountaineers can make the game seem hard, but then so easy and Saturday was nothing new. They outscored the Huskies 23-0 in the third quarter and had their third three-touchdown quarter of the season. That happened five times total from 2008-2010.
WVU is outscoring teams 245-129 this season. The opposition is winning the first quarter, 39-37, but WVU has a 118-point edge in the other three.
Two of the three-touchdown quarters this season have come in the third quarter, where WVU is outscoring opponents 89-23. The third is the most productive for WVU's offense and the least productive for the opponent's.
"Once we get everything going," said receiver Stedman Bailey, who extended his school record with a fourth straight game with 100 yards receiving, "it's like a train."
WVU already has three 40-point games this season, after only two the previous three years. The offense is averaging more than 500 yards per game. WVU had more than 500 twice the previous three years. Holgorsen said the Mountaineers sometimes try too hard to get there.
"You've got to coach that and coach guys not to press," said Holgorsen, who confessed he, too, got caught up and gave up on the run too early. "I pressed in the first half a little bit. Our job on offense is to hang in there. It's a long game. Don't go out there and press and think, 'I've got to score real quick.' It will all take care of itself if you do your job."
Smith's failed sneak and an interception before that that was negated by a defensive penalty, as well as some missed reads and throws he admitted to, served as proof for Holgorsen's point. Player and coach said the offense wanted points and haste led to mistakes.
"He still tries too hard sometimes," Holgorsen said. "There was a point in the second quarter where he thought he had some answers and did some things we'll address to make sure it doesn't happen again. He doesn't need to take the game over. He needs to play within the system, trust the coaches and trust the guys around him."
The Mountaineers were far more systemic in the second half and scored 23 points in just 7:45 of the third quarter. Smith threw touchdowns on back-to-back passes. A safety by defensive end Bruce Irvin and linebacker Jewone Snow, who returned a fumble 83 yards to set up Smith's first touchdown pass, preceded another touchdown and a 33-9 lead.
The offense had 36 plays for 210 yards in the first two quarters and then had 20 plays for 171 yards in the third quarter. Smith took a seat in the fourth quarter with another 450 yards and four touchdowns through the air.
"I think it's about our confidence and our swagger," Smith said. "I don't think we know how truly good we can be. Sometimes we try to do too much instead of reacting and letting our physical abilities take over. When we settle down and go out there and play smart and be a smarter football team, we do well because we have athletes and gifted play-makers who do special things."
Bailey had a career-high 178 yards and his second two-touchdown game. Ivan McCartney added a career-high 131 yards. It's the third time this season Smith has had two 100-yard receivers and a school-record ninth time a receiver had a 100-yard game.
Smith is on pace to set the school's single-season record for passing yards and touchdowns. Tavon Austin and Bailey are on pace to break the record for receiving yards and Austin is on pace to set the receptions mark.
Smith has the two best single-game passing totals in school history in the past three games and Saturday came 14 yards from breaking the school record he set against LSU Sept. 24.
WVU finished with 541 yards, the second-best total this season a week after setting the stadium record with 643 yards. The Mountaineers hadn't scored as many points in a conference game since beating the Huskies 66-21 in 2007.
"If we hit for all four quarters and the defense clicks, too, we think we have a good chance to score 70 or 80 points," Austin said. "Hopefully we give ourselves a chance to do that a couple times this season."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.