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Harris: Don't call WVU's Smith a running QB

| Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith looks to pass during the first half against James Madison on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Landover, Md. (AP)
West Virginia University quarterback Geno Smith (12) carries the ball past Marshall University's Pat Miller (6) for a touchdown during an NCAA college football game in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Christopher Jackson)

West Virginia senior quarterback Geno Smith has passed for nine touchdowns and only nine incompletions in his first two games this season. He's second nationally in passing yards and passing efficiency and third in total offense.

“I haven't personally been around a guy that's had those stats the first two games of the year,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. “If he can continue to play like that against better competition, then, yeah, it's something special.”

Holgorsen coached NFL quarterback Brandon Weeden, former Heisman Trophy hopeful Case Keenum and former Texas Tech star QB Graham Harrell. He knows what a top-flight passer looks like.

I considered this when Smith told reporters for the umpteenth time last week that he's a quarterback who can run rather than a running quarterback.

“My legs are just an extension of what I am as a quarterback,” said Smith, repeating a theme he has advanced since Big 12 media days in July. “I use my legs to buy time in the pocket and try to find guys open. Overall, I'm not a big threat to run. I know a lot of (media) guys want to make me that. ... I never look for the run. Never have. Never will.”

Smith's numbers back him up.

WVU's career leader in passing and touchdown passes has gained 83 yards on 10 carries this season, while he's completed 66 of 75 passes for 734 yards. His highlight as a ball carrier was a nifty, 28-yard touchdown run against Marshall on a busted play. Despite gaining strength and quickness in his final college season, his four-year totals as a runner are 274 yards on 189 carries.

“If we wanted to, we could do some things that would give him the label of being a running quarterback,” Holgorsen said. “We're not going to work on zone reads and stuff like that. He's getting rushing yards because he's doing a good job of getting out of bad situations in the pocket and extending the play.”

Smith, a potential NFL first-round draft pick who has thrown a touchdown pass for every 7.4 completions, hasn't been intercepted or sacked this season.

“He could be considered a running quarterback if we wanted to tag him,” Holgorsen said. “Our offense isn't going to let you put that tag on him.”

Smith wouldn't accept the label anyway. He prefers to be viewed as a pocket quarterback who beats you with his arm.

Away from the field, Smith gained a firm grasp of the position by speaking with NFL star Ray Lewis and former standouts Fred Taylor, Jevon Kearse and Samari Rolle, who's one of his father's best friends.

“My mental aspect of the game is a lot further ahead of guys at my level, which I think makes me better than a lot of those guys,” said Smith, who describes Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers as Super Bowl quarterbacks he emulates. “Those guys work the pocket. They're very smart making reads, they make great decisions and they have strong, accurate arms.”

Damon Cogdell, Smith's coach at Miramar High School in suburban Miami, recently spoke with his former quarterback about being true to his game.

“He's not a running quarterback. He can't play any position but quarterback,” said Cogdell, a former WVU linebacker who has had success sending quarterbacks to Division I FBS programs. “He's a passer, but he's fortunate enough to be able to run being a pocket quarterback.”

Smith said he won't change how he plays.

“To be a runner, that's just a bonus,” Smith said. “To be a good quarterback, you don't need to run.”

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

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