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WVU QB Smith won't be passing on success

By Josh Sickles
Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Every day at his locker, Geno Smith looks at a sticker that depicts West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck.

Luck, in the picture with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, played quarterback for the Mountaineers from 1978-81 and remains near the top of a number of passing categories in school history.

After leading the football team, Luck now oversees all of the school's sports. Smith, still just a junior, is shaping his identity at West Virginia as he continues to learn coach Dana Holgorsen's offense.

"I'm trying," he said. "I'm trying to establish myself, and every day I'm trying to tweak things in my game to make sure that I fit into this system and that this system is something I can execute and make it work."

The offense has put up monster numbers everywhere Holgorsen has been, including his previous two stops at Houston and Oklahoma State. The key is solid quarterback play.

Each player had a unique identity. Houston's Case Keenum specializes in getting the ball out of his hands quickly. Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden is more of a pure pocket passer.

This season, Keenum and Weeden rank first and third in the country in passing yards per game. Smith is sixth, putting up numbers unprecedented in West Virginia history.

Smith's still looking for his mold, but quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital believes he may have found it. He said Smith's able to get the ball out of his hands quickly, but his pocket presence allows more straight drop-back passing.

Basically, Smith can do it all.

"I think he's polishing himself into an all-round guy," Spavital said. "He can do the play actions. He can do the quick game. He's just growing as a quarterback."

Smith's biggest problem to start the year was failing to trust the system at times. He would operate outside the scheme, trying to make a play instead of working on his own. He's still trying to find a balance between making a play and trusting his coach's calls.

"All of that plays a major part in being a quarterback," he said. "It's not just going out there and throwing the ball."

Still, Smith has been able to turn in a monster year. He has thrown for 3,497 yards and 24 touchdowns through 10 games and leads the Big East in every passing category.

He's 110 yards shy of the West Virginia record set by Central Catholic graduate Marc Bulger in 1998. It's a mark he should break in the first half — or possibly the first quarter — of Friday's Backyard Brawl against Pitt at Milan Puskar Stadium.

Smith isn't big on personal accomplishments, but he admits it would be special being mentioned with other West Virginia greats.

"Not for my ego or anything, but just to have my name mentioned with the great quarterbacks through here," Smith said. "I strive to be better than all those guys, but I definitely appreciate what they've done for me being here now."



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