The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

October 4, 2012

West Virginia’s Smith moving on from record-setting game

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After Geno Smith’s record performance against Baylor, the West Virginia quarterback had a choice: Either spend some quality time with his mother who was in town to see him play, or go watch game film.

Sorry, mom.

Smith handed over his box of pizza and was off to a study room, ready to put a 656-yard, 8-touchdown display against Baylor behind him.

“I don’t reflect on that,” Smith said. “It’s way in the back of my mind. I don’t even care about it, to be honest with you.”

What is on his mind is the eighth-ranked Mountaineers’ first Big 12 game in a hostile environment coming up Saturday night against No. 11 Texas.

“Got to focus on Texas,” Smith said. “We don’t take wins into the next week. It sounds cliche. But that’s really how we do things.”

The approach is working. In four games Smith has thrown for 20 touchdowns without an interception. He’s completing an astounding 83 percent of his throws and is averaging 432 yards passing – 36 yards more than his nearest competitor nationally.

His performance in the 70-63 win over Baylor moved him from Heisman Trophy hopeful to the center of attention. And any doubts about his elite status can be removed if the Mountaineers (4-0, 1-0) beat the Longhorns (4-0, 1-0).

“He seems smart. He’s composed,” said Texas coach Mack Brown. “He has all the pressure of trying to win the Heisman, handle all the stuff. He seems to handle it with poise and grace all the time. But, boy is he good.”

The last time Smith played before a huge crowd on an opponent’s field came in 2010 at LSU. Smith was making his fourth career start and the Mountaineers were limited to 177 yards of offense in a 20-14 loss before 92,500 fans in Baton Rouge, La.

“Experience is a huge key, especially for a quarterback,” he said. “I’ve been a part of big situations in big games, on the road, loud crowds and all of that. So it won’t faze me.

“I don’t think there are any tricks to it. You’ve just got to go out there and be yourself.”

Film study is an important part of every quarterback’s routine. For Smith, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is or who he has to leave behind. It’s something the three-year starter has taken seriously since arriving at school in 2009.

“If you put yourself behind the eight ball by not studying film, by not being prepared, you won’t do well out there on the field,” Smith said.

So not long after the Baylor game, Smith was off with quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital.

“When he’s in Morgantown, he feels like he’s on business,” Spavital said. “I thought it was the most bizarre thing when his mom walked in, he handed her the box of pizza and he went to the film room with me. I was like, ‘You want to hang out with your mom?’ He’s like, ‘I’ll have plenty of time to hang out with her after the season.’

“He’s just got a drive and a love for the game which I’ve never been around,” said Spavital, who as a graduate assistant worked with Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden and Houston’s Case Keenum. “Hopefully that just keeps trickling down to our other players, because they see the success he’s having and the attention he’s getting.”

During the offseason, Smith studied both this year’s opponents and NFL quarterbacks, including Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and New England’s Tom Brady. Looking for tips to incorporate into his own game, Smith raved about Rodgers’ foot work and decision making, Brady’s pocket presence and focus downfield.

Several of Smith’s TD tosses against Baylor were long, accurate throws, which Spavital said he wasn’t so good at a year ago. Smith’s offseason strength conditioning and work on his foot speed have paid off.

“When it comes to the deep ball, if you look at how he threw it last year, he was kind of winding up and he was dropping the ball a bit,” Spavital said. “He was trying to get as much torque on his arm as possible. Now he’s eliminated that and he’s just worked on a fluid motion and keeping things consistent.”

On Monday, when WVU doesn’t practice and players aren’t required to formally gather to watch film, Spavital said he got a text message from Smith, who makes it a habit of looking at video on his iPad.

Smith wanted to know what the game and formation plans were for Texas. Spavital, in turn, often relays Smith’s ideas to coach Dana Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.

The same day, wide receiver Stedman Bailey got a text message from Smith with suggestions based on what he watched on Texas.

“It’s a good deal to have him chirp in, because if a quarterback really likes the play, I’d think you’d want to run it out there in the game,” Spavital said.

Spavital said he’s had discussions with Smith about his constant presence in the film room, even suggesting the quarterback “leave here, go be a college student and have some fun.”

But Spavital added that fun for Smith is playing football.

“The happiest he is is when he walks out there on the field,” Spavital said.

 

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