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WVU football: Geno has all the right moves

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Whether it's the awe that comes with watching Geno Smith play lately or the curiosity about where things can go from here, there seems to be just one question to ask West Virginia's quarterback when he plays like he did Saturday.

What could he possibly do better?

Smith completed 34 of 39 pass attempts for 411 yards and five touchdowns in last Saturday's 42-12 win against James Madison and became the likely leader in the Heisman Trophy race.

Sure enough, the question came faster than a cornerback blitz.

"What did I have, five incompletions?" he countered. "I could have completed all five of those."

That wasn't a joke and no one laughed because no one wondered if he was kidding. Instead, there was consideration given to this: How far is Smith from something even crazier than what he's been doing, like completing every pass?

"He's very close to it," WVU quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said.

Again, no laughs.

Entering Saturday's noon home game against Maryland (2-1), Smith is 66-for-75 for 734 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions. He's on as great a roll as the numbers suggest and his mentality explains why.

Despite leading four touchdown drives to start the game and take a 28-3 lead against JMU, Smith wasn't happy at halftime.

"He had five incompletions and we talked about how we had to play with a faster tempo and other adjustments," Spavital said. "He told me he wasn't going to throw another incomplete pass."

Spavital wasn't worried about that. He was instead concerned with a three-and-out on the team's fifth possession or the drive that followed and ended with time running out to end the half. Two hours later, though, Smith's words had Spavital's attention.

"He went out there and went 11-for-11 in the second half," Spavital said. "I really only thought he was joking about it."

Smith only plays around with defenses now. It's a skill he's developed by getting familiar with his offense and spending even more time studying how defenses try to stop it. He takes as much pride as he does pleasure in toying with the other team's plans.

"The thing I can do now is really read coverages and see the defense," Smith said. "Playing that play clock, that's the best thing about the up-tempo offense. It gives me more time to mess with the defense. I get to react to what the defense is in and make a check, which is pretty much a counter to what they're doing."

He hardly ever makes a mistake there. The staff didn't disagree with any of his decisions against Marshall, whether that meant targeting a receiver, making the right call to run or pass when he had the option or changing from a run to a pass or a pass to a run before the snap.

The JMU game wasn't as smooth, though he was acclaimed for spreading the ball. Stedman Bailey (13) and Tavon Austin (11) became the first WVU players to catch at least 10 passes in the same game. Both had a touchdown, but Smith also completed five passes to running back Andrew Buie for 90 yards.

"There was a point between the second and third quarter where the offense stalled and a lot of that is just me," he said. "I could definitely make better checks or put is in better situations."

A year ago, Smith would communicate with Coach Dana Holgorsen between every play and there were natural communication problems as one learned the other and as Smith figured out what Holgorsen wanted. That awkwardness is gone now and Smith is so sharp and so independent that it stands out when he does something normal and conservative.

He stood in the shotgun Saturday, stared at the defense and then called a timeout.

"I got a look I didn't like and I wanted to talk it over with Dana, so I took a timeout," he said. "That wasn't a bad thing. I wish I didn't have to do it, but it's part of the game and part of managing it."

The Mountaineers, despite their tempo, were running behind on the play and the play clock was under 10 seconds. Rather than rush an audible or run a play he didn't think would work, Smith decided to ask for time.

"The kid just knows," Spavital said. "A lot of times he wouldn't do that last year. There were times we ran into a bad box as part of the call and Dana would try to run in there and get a timeout. But Geno understands all that now. We talk all the time about year two of the offense and that's one of the areas where you really see it."

Smith was on the field for 10 drives and led the eighth-ranked Mountaineers (2-0) to six touchdowns. The other four possessions ended on downs, halftime, downs and a safety. Smith blamed himself for a few failings, though Spavital said Smith was right to stay in a run play in the end zone on JMU's safety.

"I know what we're good at as an offense and the things we need to do to get out of certain situations," Smith said. "For instance, they blitzed one time and I checked to a pass and hit Tavon on a corner route. Then later I checked to the same thing and got lit up."

Though he wasn't sacked and was hit only that one time, the Mountaineers want Smith to avoid danger, which means getting rid of the ball quicker. Though Smith has proven to be a very capable and effective scramble this season, he's also being told the defenders are going to be bigger and stronger very soon.

Maryland is No. 8 in total defense (227.33 yards per game) and No. 6 against the pass (124.33) and has eight sacks.

"Some of the defensive lines we're going to be facing are not going to be as easy to get out of," Holgorsen said. "(Saturday) was the first time he faced a lot of blitzing and he's got to get used to that and he's got to get the ball out of his hands when they're blitzing. He's not going to be able to sit there and scramble for five seconds all the time."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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