WVU football: Blitz gave Smith, Mountaineers trouble
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Geno Smith was the last of West Virginia's football players to meet with the media following Saturday's 31-21 victory against Maryland.
The quarterback of the ninth-ranked Mountaineers needed - and took - a little longer than normal to get out of his uniform, into the shower and out of the locker room, but he also slipped into the trainer's room for brief treatment.
Smith was sacked for the first time in 296 days and hit a number of other times. As a result, an observer asked Smith about how his body was after the game and Smith replied with an adjective that had been reserved for his performance the previous two games.
"Perfect," Smith said.
He was far from it against Maryland. A week after vowing not to throw an incomplete pass in the second half against James Madison - and then making good on that with an 11-for-11 streak - Smith had nine incomplete passes in the first two quarters against the Terrapins. He had nine the first two games.
Smith was 30-for-43 for 338 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, but his coach, Dana Holgorsen, said Smith was "a bit off."
"He got hit," Holgorsen said. "He got hit early and they were pressuring him. They got to him and that rattled him a little."
The Mountaineers (3-0) had a bit of a problem when preparing for the Terrapins (2-2), who opened the season with wins against William & Mary from the FCS and Temple, but lost a week earlier against a second Big East team, Connecticut.
"We didn't know what they were going to do defensively," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said.
"They hadn't played anybody who even runs a formation that we run. It was a guessing game."
Smith said the Mountaineers were not surprised by or unprepared for the Terrapins or any specific scheme or personnel grouping. One concept stood out at the end, though.
"They blitzed the crap out of us," he said.
It worked, too, and Maryland not only took Smith down for the first time since the 2011 regular-season finale against South Florida, but did it twice and got to the previously unsacked quarterback many other times.
Smith said he held onto the ball too long on some plays, which led to hits and two sacks and even a holding penalty late in the game. He also said he unloaded the ball in a hurry other times and didn't make the right reads to get into a good play against the blitz.
This isn't a new tactic against Holgorsen's offense at WVU and the teams that beat WVU last season: LSU, Syracuse and Louisville. Or the teams that nearly pulled it off - Cincinnati and South Florida.
These Mountaineers had yet to see it this season.
"That's what teams are going to do to us," Smith said. "But that's a sign of a good offense. If you come out and run the same offense you did last week against us, we're going to find matchups and exploit things. Maryland did a good job mixing up coverages and trying to rattle our domes."
WVU's offense had four three-and-out series after just one the first two games.
The timing matters, too, because the Mountaineers play their first Big 12 Conference game Saturday at home against Baylor, which moved to 3-0 with Friday's road win against Louisiana-Monroe. The noon game will be televised by FX.
"I would guess it's probably going to be like that against Baylor," Dawson said. "They'll have a long week to prepare and they're probably going to throw in some wrinkles."
Maryland's plan was enabled by WVU's lack of a running game. The Mountaineers played virtually the entire game without starting running back Shawne Alston (thigh bruise) and finished with 25 yards on 25 carries. They entered the game second nationally with 7.4 yards per carry.
The Terrapins controlled the line of scrimmage, sometimes without much help from linebackers or defensive backs. In addition, they could guess with a blitz against the pass because the Mountaineers didn't run well or often. WVU had its lowest rushing total since a loss to Syracuse in 1996.
"Their defensive line played aggressive and they blitzed a lot," Smith said. "They forced us to pass the ball, but at the same time they mixed up their coverage and threw off our mechanics. That's something we need to figure out, but I know all the offensive staff is going to get in the film room and come up with a plan to counter that."
WVU's running game affected the passing game and the offense didn't pass on a third down until the fourth quarter - which was the last of 15 third downs the Mountaineers faced in the game. WVU was 7-for-15, but it wasn't so simple. The average yardage needed for a first down was 9.5 yards and only once did WVU have a third down that needed fewer than 4 yards.
That put more on Smith, which encouraged more from the Maryland blitz. Smith completed 8-of-13 passes on third down for six first downs. He was sacked once, which led to a field goal in the red zone, but he also threw a key touchdown late. Smith spotted a busted coverage in the secondary on third-and-15 and completed a 34-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin against pressure.
The pass protection held and WVU had one of its few wins against the blitz.
"Our definition of balance is not necessarily 50-50, but we need to be good at both, or at least be effective at both," Dawson said. "We weren't effective in the run game, but you've got to give credit to them for doing good stuff up front, but we didn't take advantage of it on the back end.
"The thing about it is both those deals play off each other. If we're struggling in the run game because they're loading the box and doing stuff to us up front to give us problems, we need to expose them in the passing game and we didn't' do that nearly enough."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.