West Virginia quarterback makes strides in offense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has shown through the first eight games of the season that his arm can challenge a defense.
Heading into Oct. 29 game with Connecticut, the Mountaineers' coaching staff wanted to throw a wrinkle in the game plan. They wanted to catch the Huskies off-guard and test Smith's legs.
The Mountaineers' sophomore quarterback ran the ball through option read plays and finished with 15 carries for 64 yards in the 16-13 overtime loss to UConn.
"We're an option offense. Those runs weren't predetermined gives for him. Those were read plays," WVU offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen said. "Of course, when you have a guy like (running back) Noel (Devine), a defense tends to run to him. That's really been the uphill battle all year long."
Devine has been less successful this season, so the coaches decided to give Smith an opportunity to run the ball. If he could do successfully, the WVU coaches thought opposing defenses would have to account for both players — not just Devine.
"We have a first-year starter at quarterback and a fourth-year senior at tailback. Defenses have forced the young quarterback to make enough plays to beat the opponent," Mullen said. "If we can continue to run some option offense, we can certainly help limit what a defensive coordinator can do to us."
Smith had a successful first half against Connecticut; he averaged nearly 7 yards per rush. In the second half, he averaged only 2 yards per carry.
WVU coach Bill Stewart said Connecticut made adjustments and were less aggressive, which in turn led to some struggles for Smith in the second half.
"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," Stewart said.
Smith isn't necessarily a traditional WVU-style quarterback like Pat White or Jarrett Brown — players who had a run-first, throw-later mentality. So, running with the ball is something new for the Miramar, Fla., native.
"Running is natural. Some guys just have more ball-carrier vision than others," Smith said. "It's best for the team. Obviously, teams are playing us different than what they were with Jarrett and Pat. They understand that my first option is not to run."
Smith said one of the reasons for his early success in the offense was that defenses weren't sure what type of quarterback he was. He admitted opposing defensive coordinators may have set up their game plan as if Smith was more of a running quarterback.
"They played us the same way they did last year, and me being a pass-first quarterback, we did pretty well in the passing game," Smith said. "Teams are now saying, 'Hey, he's passing the ball well, let's make them run it.' Running the ball is really going to help us."
Mullen hope adding another dimension to Smith's game will benefit the offense for the final four regular-season games.
"If we can continue to run some option offense, we can certainly help limit what a defensive coordinator can do to us," Mullen said.