Harris: WVU's Smith's Heisman stock soars

| Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012

Can someone tell me of a better quarterback performance than the one West Virginia's Geno Smith delivered against Baylor?

What began as the Mountaineers' Big 12 debut turned into Smith strengthening his bid for the Heisman Trophy. All that was missing was Smith striking the Heisman pose following WVU's 70-63 win in which he completed 45 of 51 passes for 656 yards and eight touchdowns.

After four games and 169 passes, Smith still hasn't thrown an interception. Good thing, too, since he can't stop thinking about his six incompletions against Baylor.

“I could have completed those five or six,” said Smith, who hasn't thrown an interception since Dec. 1, 2011, when he had two against South Florida. “I had situations I was kind of forcing balls where I could have scrambled and picked up 3 or 4 yards.”

A perfectionist, Smith — who leads the country with 20 touchdown passes — has thrown only 28 incompletions this season.

“He's harder on himself than anybody,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He expects perfection. In football, perfection is impossible. But that's something that makes him great.”

Instead of celebrating, Smith was watching film of the Mountaineers' upcoming opponent one hour after Saturday's win.

“I'm sure he had three Texas games on his iPad,” Holgorsen said. “If we don't have an opponent to look at, he'll look at NFL guys to see if he can pick up things technique-wise. Aaron Rodgers is a guy he's studied. Tom Brady. Drew Brees.''

While throwing for approximately one-third of a mile against Baylor may have put Smith on the national radar, how he performs the rest of the season — beginning with Saturday night's game against the Longhorns — will determine if he remains the Heisman favorite.

“He's probably ahead of the curve that Robert Griffin set last year,” said Texas coach Mack Brown, referencing last year's Heisman winner.

Brown, of course, should know. He coached Heisman winners Vince Young and Ricky Williams, as well as Colt McCoy, who was a Heisman runner-up.

“There's a tremendous amount of pressure on him to handle all the hype and the Heisman stuff,” Brown said of Smith. “It's a very difficult thing to do, and he seems unbothered by it. As good as (Big 12) quarterbacks have been, he's playing as good or better than any quarterback we've ever had. They're similar (Mountaineers) in production to what we were doing in '05 with Vince Young and what USC was doing with the two Heisman candidates (Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart).”

Smith's stock is rising among NFL scouts. After watching Smith dominate Baylor with the fourth-best passing total in NCAA history, one scout said Smith has the potential to become a franchise quarterback.

“The kid is legit and better than either (Andrew) Luck or Robert Griffin III. He's my top-rated prospect,” said Dave-Te' Thomas of Scouting Services Inc., who evaluates college players for NFL teams and produces a publication provided by the league to the media in preparation for the draft.

In a remarkable admission, Thomas said he's giving Smith his highest draft grade for a quarterback since John Elway.

“I've been watching him since he was in high school, and his time with quarterback guru George Whitfield has been magical,” Thomas said. “If I had to compare him with any QB in the league, I'd say he has Drew Brees' pinpoint accuracy, Joe Flacco's arm strength, Randall Cunningham's athleticism, Aaron Rodgers' field vision and confidence and Russell Wilson's mobility. All together, and he's a franchise builder.”

And the one to watch in the Heisman race.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com.

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