WVU's Smith gaining a foothold in new offense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was coming off a 24-7 loss to N.C. State in the Champs Sports Bowl and about to have a third foot surgery when he met his new coach, Dana Holgorsen, in January during winter break.
Smith was hesitant about the change.
Holgorsen, offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting, told Smith that he "needed to go to class" and "come out here and work hard" during the 30-minute conversation at the quarterback's old high school, Smith said.
"I really like the fact that he's an up-front guy. He doesn't sugar-coat things. He didn't come in boasting about his numbers or anything like that," Smith said. "He just said that we have to work hard, and that's something that we as players like."
For the first time since he arrived in Morgantown, Smith is fully participating in spring drills. His foot surgery was successful, and he learned in late February that he would be able to practice in all spring drills — a first for the rising junior.
"I feel great. I've had no pain or issues with the foot," Smith said. "I just hope that God blesses me and makes sure that this isn't an issue for me anymore."
Smith, touted as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate in 2011, has spent much of the offseason alongside Holgorsen learning the new offense.
"They stare a hole into me sometimes because they don't get it. That's what they're supposed to do," Holgorsen said of Smith and the other quarterbacks. "You can tell Geno's played. He has experience. His body language is great, and he's a leader, but his head is cloudy, too."
Smith admitted his system isn't difficult. In fact, it was completely installed Saturday after just three days of practice.
When Smith first heard the offense could be installed that quickly, he admitted he thought the staff was exaggerating.
"When it actually does happen in three days, and you see the effectiveness from the last 11 years of how many yards have been put up, it makes the coaches look like geniuses," Smith said. "We're doing things that we shouldn't be doing at this point of installing a new offense."
So far, Smith said he can see differences from former offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen's scheme. Holgorsen's offense is predicated on a quick tempo with fewer reads at the line of scrimmage. There are little to no read-option plays in the offense for the first time since prior to the Rich Rodriguez days. In addition, the offense practices more as a team and less as individual units, Smith said.
"With Mullen's offense, it was more of a pro-style attack. I think now we're just fun-and-gun," Smith said.
This spring will be crucial, not only for Smith but also for West Virginia's offense. The Mountaineers must spend much of their time learning a new offense, doing so without a veteran at running back for the first time since 2005.
But West Virginia will have Smith, the first two-year starter at quarterback since Pat White left in 2008. He will have to beat out a pair of freshmen, Brian Athey and Paul Millard, to keep his job.
Holgorsen said the Mountaineers have picked up the offense as well as he could have expected.
"There have been a lot of mistakes, but the thing I like the most is the tempo and the effort that these guys are playing with," Holgorsen said. "This offense allows you to develop kids. ... I think the talent is fine. The way guys develop is what's most important."