Mountaineer Gameday: Quarterback Smith always strives for perfection
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- In the most stunning development in a season in which he's produced a series of shockers, Geno Smith has managed to surprise even himself.
The West Virginia quarterback, the engineer of the eighth-ranked locomotive that speeds into Austin, Texas, for tomorrow's 7 p.m. game against No. 11 Texas, the unquestioned leader of the way-too-early Heisman Trophy popularity contest, does not understand why people make a big deal out of his obsession with football.
The study habits, the preparation, the review sessions, the odd hours, the relentless need to get better than he was even on a day like last Saturday, sounds ridiculous. To him, it's reality.
"I would think that most quarterbacks would do that, but it's turning out that I'm finding out it's not a trend around here," he said.
He insists his fascinating fixation is very normal, so you believe it. And why not? He just passed for 656 yards and eight touchdowns in a game - not a month. He's finished three games this season when his incomplete passes haven't outnumbered his touchdown passes - not a typo.
The truth of the matter is that on campus at WVU, what he says goes. If he wanted one busy day to beg out of that Spanish class he takes, he could make it happen with a simple por favor.
Now, that's unlikely, not because he lacks the leverage, but because the kid is a workaholic. For proof, consider what happened Saturday, not during the greatest passing performance in Mountaineers history, but after it as he started to prepare for the Longhorns (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) so that he might do a half a dozen things to make Gus Johnson scream all over the Fox broadcast.
WVU (4-0, 1-0) had won 70-63 and Smith was 45-for-51. He met with the media and grabbed the postgame meal, which, needless to say, was easily earned. He instead passed it off to his mom.
"He hands her the box of pizza and he and I go into the film room and watch the tape," quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said, not able to smother his smirk, but not particularly bothered by that, either. "He can't get his mind off the game."
The meeting broke a while later and Smith went home, though with an iPad that was already fixed with clips of the Longhorns.
"I don't know that I've ever been around a kid whose blinders are as good as his," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "He has tunnel vision. He finishes one week, he puts it away and focuses on the next week."
The team reconvened Sunday, got the Bears out of their system and departed for a day before they were to return Tuesday to begin the three days of practice taking the team into the Texas game.
Smith sat down and watched NFL games and studied Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees and compared their mechanics to his.
The coaches met later Sunday and then Monday to put together a game plan. Smith made himself a part of their day.
"He comes in throughout the day and kind of chirps to us what he likes," Spavital said.
Smith has added that to his list of chores this season and the Mountaineers couldn't be happier to oblige.
"We respect him, we respect his opinion," Dawson said. "He comes to us and says he thinks this, this and this will be good and we look at it and if we agree with him we do it. If he says there's a certain thing about one play where a guy is getting in the way, maybe we need to change where that guy goes on that play.
"Geno's the guy out there doing it, not us. We want to make him feel extremely comfortable with the game plan, so we'll listen to him, no doubt."
The official game plan is property of the coaches until Tuesday, when the Mountaineers go to their meeting rooms and first see ideas and philosophies and necessities scribbled on a dry-erase board.
Smith can't wait. He fiddles with his cell phone later Monday and sends his roommate and star receiver, Stedman Bailey, a video message that has a bunch of Texas stuff Smith has already watched and diagnosed.
"They consider that our day off," Bailey said. "We don't have to practice. We don't have to come in and watch film or do anything. But that's just like him to get started early."
He starts early and ends late. Spavital's phone was not spared. He got messages from Smith around 10:30 p.m. Maybe a half an hour later. Spavital wasn't sure because it's not unusual.
"He was asking me what's in the game plan, what does he need to work on," Spavital said. "It's always on his mind. He's always looking for ways to excel.
"Always. That impresses and amuses those close to him, but the person who needs him the most admitted after Saturday's game that I worry about that with him at times because he expects perfection."
That person was his head coach, Dana Holgorsen. Minutes earlier, he had been asked about Smith's performance and what Smith could have possibly done better.
Believe it or not, it's a fair question because Smith has this amazing knack for being a little better a little farther down the road. Holgorsen shrugged and asked "Could you please explain to me how you improve on that?"
Observers laughed. Holgorsen did not. In the back of his head, he knew Smith would try. That is a venerable trait in an unyieldingly competitive player, but it has to be a concerning characteristic, too. The game is hard. The opponents are going to get harder. Satisfying Spavital and Dawson and Holgorsen is perhaps more difficult. Stiff-arming the Heisman hype and the pursuit of a national title will become nearly impossible the closer Smith and the Mountaineers get to those destinations.
Forget the staggering passing numbers. Those are bound to fade, though that reality, or the need to avoid it, will push Smith even more. Either scenario transitions into the more meaningful question. Can Smith keep up this prodigious drive of his?
"Oh, yeah," Spavital said. "He's been this way since Day One. There are times I try to tell him to leave here, go be a college kid, go have some fun. Fun to him is to going out there and playing football. It's very rare. I've never coached one like this, but the happiest he is is when he walks out there on the field."