The Times West Virginian

October 13, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Smith’s long streak part of team concept

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Athletics, they say, mirror life and, for the most part, they do.

There is one area, however, where they stray far away, and that is in the matter of streaks – be they winning streaks, losing streaks, hitting streaks or, as West Virginia University quarterback Geno Smith is now beginning to learn, streaks of passes without an interception.

This is not to say that in life you cannot go on a winning or losing streak … a salesman calling on 12 straight customers and making sales, a driver making 21 consecutive green lights or sports writer failing on 56 straight attempts to pick up a pretty lady in a singles’ bar.

And if you ask how I know this, just understand you are talking Joe DiMaggio of sports writers.

See, in real life, no one keeps track, so you really don’t know about these freakish streaks of luck – be it good luck or bad luck.

In sports, though, everything is broken down into numbers, and so it is that Smith finds himself having thrown 259 consecutive passes without one of them winding up in the grasp of a player wearing the opponent’s uniform.

As streaks go, this is a good one, but may not even be the most important that WVU brings into its 3:30 p.m. game at Texas Tech today, that being the nine-game winning streak the team has put together to tie for second-longest active winning streak in the country.

Only No. 3 South Carolina’s 10-game streak is longer at present while the school record stands at 13 in a row, a record set in 1952-53 … a full 60 years ago. If they manage to get there, winning their next four, they will be poised to set the record on Nov. 17 at home with a game against no less an opponent than Oklahoma that is expected to produce the Big 12 champion.

Make no doubt, however, that Smith’s record streak of passes without an interception has played a big role in putting the winning streak together and is worthy of the kind of attention that streaks draw, although it is being downplayed by both coach Dana Holgorsen and Smith himself.

“I’m aware of it, but I don’t think about it,” Smith said this week when the matter was brought up.

The way he said it made it sound believable, perhaps because he is not yet threatening the all-time collegiate record of 379 consecutive passes without an interception set by N.C. State’s Russell Wilson from 2008 to 2009, last having been intercepted by South Florida safety JaQuez Jenkins on Dec. 1, 2011.

Smith, therefore, needs to go 120 passes without an interception to tie the record and that seems like it could be a long, long time … and would have been in the Don Nehlen or Patrick White eras.

With Smith behind center – 6 yards back or so – and Holgorsen calling the plays, 120 passes may not be a full three games off.

Rest assured, however, that it is not yet a topic of discussion within the locker room, and Holgorsen is doing nothing to promote it.

When asked what he’s doing to keep it from becoming a distraction, Holgorsen began:

“The first step is to not talk about it, and obviously when it comes to you guys (that would be the media), you’re going to want to talk about it.”

Holgorsen, of course, is right. Just as they talked about Pete Rose’s 44-game hitting streak before it reached 30, the talk has begun, so Holgorsen wanted to let the world know that while the streak is compiled by Smith, it is in reality a team streak.

“If you think Geno is the only one who can control that, you’re nuts,” he said. “I know it’s his stat, but everybody else can help control that. We don’t talk about that. We talk about completions and putting the ball where you need to put it. From whatever play we’re in, if his job is to go here, here and here, then he needs to go here (with the ball) and throw it to the open guy.

“The protection has to be good, and we have to run the ball good to keep some heat off Geno as far as having to throw the ball into eight people who are dropping. When the ball is in the air, it’s up to the receiver to attack and make sure it’s ours.”

In other words, there’s a lot that goes into the completion of a forward pass … or an intercepted one ... and throwing it is only part of it.

“This streak has a whole lot more to do with what the system is and how we’re catching it than it does with the guy who does it,” Holgorsen said.

Do not, however, take in any way that Holgorsen is playing down Smith’s accomplishment, even if it does sound that way, for Holgorsen is not through

“That’s what great players do. They take care of the ball,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve done a great job of that all year.”

And, as long as they continue to keep away from turning the ball over, they almost certainly will find a way to score enough points to win … even it takes 70 of them.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.