WVU football: Geno reaching greater heights
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The worst-case scenario for Pitt in tonight's Backyard Brawl is the public address announcer at Mountaineer Field will stop Geno Smith more than the Panthers defense will.
Smith enters the 7 p.m. contest (ESPN telecast) likely to break four single-season West Virginia football records. He'll also move closer to a fifth, as well as four other Big East single-season records.
What could be bad news for Pitt (5-5, 3-2 Big East) would be just news to Smith. He's more aware of the impact the game has on the conference championship than it does on Mountaineer history.
"I couldn't tell you exactly which ones, but I know," he said. "I've been hearing about it, but I don't really know about it and I don't really care about it. It is an honor for me and I realize I've been blessed to play enough games and to do enough successful things to go down in the record books.
The 6-foot-3 junior quarterback has completed 269-of-417 passes for 3,497 yards, 24 touchdowns and five interceptions. He needs three attempts, six completions and 111 yards to surpass Marc Bulger.
Once Smith combines for 103 yards rushing and passing, he'll move past Bulger's total of 3,515. Bulger set all four marks in 1998, when he threw a WVU-record 31 touchdown passes.
Louisville's Brian Brohm holds the conference records for attempts, completions, passing yards and total yards. Smith could own all four by the end of the regular season.
The Mountaineers (7-3, 3-2) will take on a Pitt pass defense ranked No. 67 nationally.
The Panthers allow 233 yards per game.
Opponents complete nearly 60 percent of their attempts and have thrown 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Pitt was ranked No. 107 after five games and allowed 289.6 yards per game.
Since then, the Panthers are allowing just 176.4 yards per game, but Smith will be their biggest challenge.
"Geno Smith is very impressive," Pitt Coach Todd Graham said. "He can make every throw, he extends plays and he is a tremendous player - one of the best in the country."
No one was supposed to benefit more from the arrival of WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen than Smith ... and no one has.
In addition to the records he'll break, he's in the top 10 nationally in total offense, passing yards and passing yards per game in a year where quarterback play has been at a premium across the country.
"I'm one of those guys that really doesn't get too sore right now," the WVU quarterback said. "I know that's not going to last forever and I'm going to need some ice eventually, but for now, I'm good."
What might happen for Smith today would extend an eventful year, one that hasn't robbed him of any experiences.
"It's been a great ride," he said. "It's not over by any means, though. We have three more games left and we're going to try to play hard and try to become the team everyone wants us to be.
"Personally, it's been memorable. I'm honored to lead the team and be the first quarterback of Dana Holgorsen's head coaching era and I've really tried to put this program back on the map.
"We have so much history and it gets overlooked. It means a lot to me just to be here in this position."
Holgorsen has tried to mold Smith to fit his system, but has sometimes chided Smith for being a little hard-headed, a little too confident in his ability and a little too loose with the ball.
Smith has handled all of that in stride, but has also been critical himself. Last week, he was reprimanded by Athletic Director Oliver Luck after Smith decried the Big East officiating after a win at Cincinnati.
Smith passed 65 times for 463 yards against LSU and has the two highest passing totals in a game in WVU history WVU. He has topped 400 yards three times and above 370 yards three other times.
He wasn't sacked at all against LSU, but he was sacked five times by the Bearcats. He's played seven games without an interception, but has thrown two twice - and WVU lost both times.
"He's still a little careless with the ball," Holgorsen said. "He's making really good decisions throwing the ball, but from the ball-in-the-hand aspect and getting out of the pocket and trying to keep things alive, he's still not doing a very good job."
Smith has nevertheless caught on quickly in an offense that asks a lot of the quarterback. He's surprised coaches with his ability to make quick decisions and fast throws, but also his patience and pocket presence. Yet the Mountaineers have also moved away from some things, namely the tempo they'd like to use on offense.
"He can do anything there is," WVU quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said. "He has no strengths and he has no weaknesses. He's not above or below, but he's very consistent. He's not exceptional at anything, but he can do everything."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.