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Harris: Smith opens Heisman candidacy

West Virginia quaterback Geno Smith (12) calls a play from the sidelines during their NCAA college football against Marshall in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012. West Virginia won 69-34. (AP Photo/Christopher Jackson)

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Monday, Sept. 3, 2012, 10:44 p.m.

Dana Holgorsen didn't waste time.

West Virginia's 69-34 victory over Marshall was barely 30 minutes old, and the Mountaineers' coach was already deep into his Geno Smith for Heisman Trophy mode.

Presented with a routine question regarding Smith's 388 total yards and five touchdowns in three quarters of work, Holgorsen surprised me with his response.

“He managed the game as well as anyone I've ever been around,'' Holgorsen said.

Say what?

So much for not trumpeting Smith for the Heisman.

If you recall, Holgorsen and West Virginia decided against a national media campaign promoting Smith's Heisman candidacy. Apparently, no one said anything about West Virginia creating an unofficial Heisman campaign for Smith.

By lumping Smith in with former quarterback proteges such as Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell and Houston's Case Keenum, Holgorsen all but purchased Smith's plane ticket to New York City for the Heisman ceremonies with his effusive praise.

Two days later, Holgorsen didn't back away from his postgame remarks.

“Geno played his best game since I've been here,'' Holgorsen said Monday.

“I've had some good quarterbacks that have started the year well from a completion standpoint. The thing we gauge more than anything is taking care of the ball. Geno took care of the ball. Is it as efficient as some of the other people? Yes. Is it higher? Probably.''

Personally, I think it's great. For Smith to have a legitimate chance of being taken seriously for the Heisman, it's important to put his name out there early and often.

Let's face it. USC quarterback Matt Barkley is the frontrunner to win the Heisman. It's probably his to lose. His name already resonates with Heisman voters. South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is another player who's familiar to Heisman voters because of the attention he received last year.

Smith? Not so much.

There are mind games played every year in selecting the Heisman winner. Image and perception are everything. The best player doesn't always win. Sometimes how a player is perceived becomes more important than his actual performance on the field.

The head coach-quarterback relationship is extremely important, especially when the coach is also the de facto offensive coordinator who calls the plays, as Holgorsen does. It's vital that Holgorsen and Smith are on the same page and understand what the other is thinking.

“He's a straight shooter,'' Smith said. “He's gonna tell you what he feels about you. That's what makes him such a great coach. He keeps us all on the same page.''

Smith completed 32 of 36 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns against Marshall. He didn't force any passes and had no interceptions. As much as he wanted to throw to star wideouts Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, he took what the defense gave him.

Austin and Bailey caught 19 balls, but Smith also completed a total of 11 passes to J.D. Woods, Jordan Thompson, Ivan McCartney and K.J. Myers, and four more to running back Andrew Buie.

With all of their success in the passing game, the Mountaineers still rushed for 331 yards.

“We want to take what the defense gives us,'' offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “If we can get into the right play — and Geno does a good job of that — we have a better offense.''

Right quarterback, right play, right offense. If Holgorsen has anything to say about it, Smith is the right man for the Heisman.

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

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