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November 17, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Smith set for matchup with OU star

MORGANTOWN — Today’s Big 12 showdown between West Virginia University and Oklahoma is in many ways a battle for survival, the Mountaineers simple trying to survive a season gone haywire and the Sooners trying to survive in the conference race and its drive to a BCS bowl, already owning one league loss and two losses overall.

As such, it could play as any of hundreds of survival movies:

“Robinson Crusoe II,” “Defiance II,” “Into The Wild II” or, perhaps putting it in the science fiction setting in which it seems to exist, the 1951 classic “When Worlds Collide II.”

Of course, it is also a game played for revenge, Oklahoma still stinging from the 2008 Fiesta Bowl whipping Bill Stewart and his Mountaineers put on them to salvage a season seemingly destroyed by Pitt’s upset in the final regular-season game.

As such, it could play out as any of hundreds of revenge movies:

Mel Gibson’s “Payback,” Uma Thurman’s “Kill Bill III,” Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven II” or either of the King of Revenge Charles Bronson’s movies “Death Wish” whatever it’s up or “Once Upon a Time in the West.”

While those titles all might fit, let us suggest that this game really comes down to “Alias Smith and Jones,” for if ever there was a battle of quarterbacks in Milan Puskar Stadium, this is it, the two pass-happiest quarterbacks in a Big 12 showdown that figures to look more like “The Shootout at OK Corral.”

Oklahoma brings its own Landry Jones to town whose career credentials even outweigh WVU’s Geno Smith, Jones having taken 1,973 attempts to 1,347 for Smith, Jones with 1,247 completions to 904 for Smith, Jones with 15,070 passing yards to 10,498 for Smith and Jones with 87 TDs to 83 for Smith.

Perhaps we ought to note here, just to put everything in perspective, that Jones has played 48 games on the collegiate level, Smith 40 and that Smith is among the Top 10 in career passing efficiency and completion percentage while Jones is nowhere in sight.

This quarterback battle lifts this game to an even higher level than it would normally have, because the two competitors are gifted, proud athletes who want to be known as the best, and this will be their only chance to prove it on this level.

Smith, to date, has been the ultimate team player, downplaying any suggestion that his head-to-head confrontation with Kansas State’s Collin Klein or Texas Tech’s Seth Doege mattered, that only the man who won the game would be king for a day.

This time, when the subject of Smith vs. Jones came up, Smith took a slightly different tone.

“I’ve followed his career, and Landry is a guy who has done a great job since he took over for (Sam Bradford). He could’ve entered the draft and have been one of the higher picks, but he chose to stay with his teammates, and I respect him for that,” Smith began.

“He’s a great quarterback; he’s done some really good things for his team last season and this season. I just look forward to another opportunity to go out there and compete, and show improvement myself.”

But when pushed if, indeed, performing head-to-head didn’t add something to the mix, Smith admitted that it did.

“As a competitor, I do appreciate going up against great quarterbacks. I’ve gone up against a lot of them in my career. It’s one of those things, the quarterback who wins will be considered the better quarterback.

“It’s a game that will play Landry Jones and his offense against West Virginia and vice-versa.”

Make no doubt those same juices flow through Jones’ veins, and he knows that his team is at a point in the season where it is playing its best football.

“I think at this point in the season we are getting into a pretty good flow of plays, execution and tempo. We are figuring out who we kind of are. I think we did a great job against Baylor. I think everybody played really well, did their job and played at a pretty high level,” he said.

He, like Smith, has blossomed in his senior year after what was a less than expected junior season.

“I know more about the game, the flows of the game, what plays need to be made and what plays that you can check the ball down, just different things along that,” Jones explained. “I feel like I have a better feel of the flow of the game and know when critical drives need to be made and when the offense needs to step up and score touchdowns.

“I think ever since Texas Tech I have been playing pretty consistently at a high level. I am sure there have been some throws I shouldn’t have made, but I think at this point in my career I am playing the best that I have been.”

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

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