MORGANTOWN--Against Marshall on Sept. 9, Geno Smith threw a career-most 45 times and completed 32 passes, his largest number ever. Against Maryland on Sept. 18, he threw for a personal best four touchdowns. However, in the last two games, West Virginia coaches have asked him to use his legs as much as his arm.
"I do what's best for the team; obviously teams are playing us differently than they did with Jarrett (Brown) and Pat (White). They understand that my first option is not to run, so they're taking away some of the things with Noel (Devine), and I need to relieve that pressure off of him and make the defense respect me as well," Smith said Tuesday night.
His Mountaineers (5-3 overall, 1-2 Big East) host Cincinnati (3-5, 1-2) at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday.
"When we first came out, defenses did not know what to expect out of me. I think they played us the same way they did last year and me being a pass-first quarterback, it exploited things and we did well in the passing game," said Smith.
Fans watched with their own eyes as the Mountaineers started relying on the sophomore's ability to make plays with his arm through the USF game Oct. 14. in the 20-6 victory--WVU's last--Mountaineer Field patrons enjoyed Smith's performance. He completed 24 of 31 passes for 219 yards. He threw no interceptions.
He was hot, but the WVU ground game cooled against the visiting Bulls. Noel Devine carried 13 times for 29 yards and Ryan Clarke ran 10 times for 27 yards. Head coach Bill Stewart and offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen were aware of Devine's big toe bruise, but they also realized that USF was keying on Devine with no threat of the run coming from Smith.
The last two games--a 19-14 loss to Syracuse and a 16-13 overtime defeat to Connecticut--Smith has been infused into the run game. He is averaging 9.8 yards per game, which rates third behind Devine and Clarke. He rushed 15 times for 64 yards (long 29) Oct. 29 at home with the Huskies.
After he was sacked five times on Oct. 23 at home against Syracuse, the Mountaineer braintrust also understood they had to move the pocket if he was to survive the season. "I do what's best for the team; obviously teams are playing us differently than they did with Jarrett (Brown) and Pat (White). They understand that my first option is not to run, so they're taking away some of the things with Noel (Devine), and I need to relieve that pressure off of him and make the defense respect me as well," Smith said.
"You need to be smart. You can't be out there trying to run guys over or doing senseless things. That's putting the team in jeopardy and not to say we don't have backups, but if your starting quarterback goes down, it hurts the team."
Stewart understands this. In fact, Stewart preached "slide" to Geno the week before the Connecticut game, with an ironic ending. So much did Stew school Smith on going down on his backside in lieu of getting hit, the youngster came up a yard shy of a first down against UConn. The drive ended.
"He is not going to make every single play, every single time. I tell him to slide. I don't want him to get hit in the head and get hurt," Stew said Tuesday.
"I saw him a couple of times (at Connecticut) lower his head and run through some people. That was good, but I would like him to slide if he can.
"Geno is a pretty good quarterback. He is just young, and he is going to have a bright future with this offense. This is his offense."