The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

September 29, 2011

Smith just beginning to scratch surface

By Dave Morrison
Sports Editor

MORGANTOWN — It was a quarter to remember, or forget.

That depends on how you look at it, really.

But rarely has a quarterback shined like West Virginia’s Geno Smith did Saturday in the Mountaineers’ nationally televised game with LSU.

The junior signal-caller completed 11 of 16 passes in the third quarter for 217 yards and a touchdown.

He pulled WVU from a 27-7 deficit to within 27-21.

But with a minute to go in the quarter, LSU’s Morris Claiborne returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score.

LSU went on to win 47-21.

But first-year coach Dana Holgorsen learned a lot about Smith Saturday night. And some things were just reinforced.

“He has a never-give-up attitude,” Holgorsen said. “He kept playing all the way to the end and gave us a spark in the third quarter. He had a huge third quarter and got us within six points. We had all the momentum. Then they returned that kick. It killed all our momentum, but he kept playing. The fact that he ain’t ever gonna give up is something that I’ve been saying about him from the beginning.”

Smith would finish the night going 38 of 65 for 463 yards, all school records.

Some of it had to do with the fact that WVU was behind. But not all of it.

Smith was asked if the things he wanted to do in terms of the game plan worked.

“Some of them did, some of them didn’t,” Smith said. “I wish I could take some things back. But that’s the way it goes, man. You’ve just got to press forward and get better from your mistakes.”

Holgorsen thought his quarterback played a good game. Not great, because Saturday night is nowhere near where Smith will be in three or four weeks, once WVU is in the middle of conference play.

But it’s already obvious that this team goes as far as Smith takes it.

“He’s what makes us go offensively,” Holgorsen said. “His completion percentage wasn’t as high as it had been, due to the quality of opponent. But what we were able to do was make a bunch of plays. He, for the most part, went where we wanted him to go with the ball.”

And he is not there yet.

“It’s a constant and never-ending improvement situation,” Holgorsen said. “He’s got to continue getting on the same page with me and understand exactly where we want to go with the ball. (I’m) happy with his progress, but there is always room for improvement.”

For Smith, with improvement, the sky is the limit.

Smith has only been in the system for a little over sixth months.

But look where Holgorsen has been in the last two years and how those quarterbacks are faring.

Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, under Holgorsen last year, leads the nation, completing 142 of 191 passes for 1,592 yards with 10 TDs and six interceptions.

Case Keenum of Houston, under Holgorsen two years ago, is ninth. He is 83 of 105 for 1,534 yards with 12 TDs and two interceptions.

Smith? He’s fourth nationally in passing, hitting on 120 of 183 passes for 1,471 yards with nine TDs and three interceptions.

And he hasn’t even begun to grasp it like he will when the weather starts getting colder.

How long will it take to pick up the system?

“It’s not complicated, but that doesn’t mean a smart guy can come in and just figure it out,” Holgorsen said. “It’s trial and error a lot. He has played a lot of football, and he knows how to play the game. I’ve talked about his tempo, his body language and his want-to. All that stuff is good. It still comes down to taking a bunch of snaps and the non-verbal communication that exists with me and where I want him to go with the ball on specific play calls.”

When he puts it all together, last Saturday’s record-setting performance will be remembered as Smith scratching the surface.

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