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For Smith, it's been learning as he goes

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Of all the things Geno Smith was to learn from his night in the tiger's den last game, his coach, Bill Stewart, offered this:

"Trust his coaching," the West Virginia coach said.

Through three games, WVU's quarterback had done almost nothing wrong.

The interception he threw? His offensive coordinator wanted the blame for that, but only after pointing out what a great play the Coastal Carolina defender had made.

The fumble he lost? The offensive line was overwhelmed again by Marshall's defensive line and Smith was crunched.

The fourth game was to be a lot like the fourth year of high school for Smith and lead toward a graduation to another level. LSU's defense was a litmus test for legitimacy.

Smith wasn't horrible. He didn't fail. He won't be held back. He did complete just 14 of 29 pass attempts and threw an interception on the night WVU finished with the fewest yards of offense since 2003. Those are things he'll have to live with and learn from the rest of the way.

"I think we did a lot of good things," Smith said. "Even after the game, I knew we did some good things and executed pretty well, but at the end of the day we didn't make enough plays to win the game. That was a let-down for us because I feel like we have the athletes and the coaches in place to make the plays."

And yet, opportunities to snatch an unlikely victory were right there at the end and Smith, the startlingly confident sophomore from Miami, figured he could do it. That bravado included a curious decision on what was a key play of the game, a third-and-2 at the WVU 15-yard line with a little more than four minutes remaining.

Out of a timeout, Smith scrambled to change a play at the line of scrimmage and appeared to line up behind the right guard before taking the snap and running left. He was tackled for no gain.

"He hurried it," Stewart said. "He had success earlier going right on the speed option. He ran one to the right and got a big first down. The last one, he ran to his left. He hurried it. He'd done the proper footwork all day and didn't do it on that one. He got in a hurry trying to make a play, just trying to be competitive."

That's the hallmark of Smith's still-infant age as a starting major college quarterback ... not the mistake, but the urge to do something based on an inner belief.

"During the game," Smith said, "I kept thinking one play here or there would break the game open. It just didn't turn out that way."

The comeback against Marshall, the beginning against Maryland, the decisions to check out of one play and into another throughout the schedule, they're all a product of his competence at his position and why so many people expected him to simply march down the field on one of those three late occasions against LSU.

"I'd love for him to have won that game, I'd love for him to have made another fantastic comeback, but you all write these folk hero stories about how great this kid is and he's played three games up to that one," Stewart said. "Now he's played four games in his college career, a 19-year-old college kid."

So with WVU's Robin Hood turned Don Quixote for an open week, Smith was left to revisit his performance and make the necessary repairs. It's part of the evolution at his position and in his role as the leader and caretaker of the offense.

The reality is as harsh as it is inevitable, but to be good, he needs to understand what it's like to be bad. Later he can differentiate between good and great. 

"There were a couple plays here and there where I could have made a better throw or a better read," he said. "You're not going to be perfect. That's the way the game goes. Sometimes you don't make enough plays. You've got to focus on the next game and not dwell on the last game."

In some regard, though, Smith and the Mountaineers must remember LSU. It's why Stewart pieced together a series of clips when LSU blitzed and how the quarterback and the offense handled the constant pressure. Smith wasn't sacked - a credit to his quick decisions and quicker release - but he was hit a lot and sometimes had to hurry.

With 11 minutes to play, LSU blitzed on third-and-11 at its 31 and Smith ended up throwing short to Jock Sanders. Had the throw been better, had Sanders cut his route earlier, had those two come together for that one play, Stewart figures WVU could have scored, or at least gotten a first down.

As good as the 12th-ranked Tigers' defense was and is, that was on the Mountaineers and there is value in such failures as Smith progresses.

"It gives us motivation from here on out because I feel like, as an offense, we let the team down," Smith said. "Feeling like that gives us motivation to come out with a chip on our shoulder form here on out.

"It comes down to us executing. I feel like if we don't beat ourselves, we can win every game. That game, we beat ourselves. We still had a chance at the end of the game to get the victory, but we just weren't able to make the plays."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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