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October 9, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN- Without Geno, Mountaineers can’t keep pace with Baylor

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University coach Dana Holgorsen’s Monday night was spent the same way millions of other Americans spent theirs, with his attention turned to Monday Night Football as the New York Jets came from behind to defeat the Atlanta Falcons.

He, though, was viewing it through a different lens than the rest of the nation, for he was watching the Jets rookie quarterback, Geno Smith, engineer the come-from-behind victory, just as he had done for him on any number of occasions when Smith was breaking every passing record WVU had to offer.

Considering the problems Holgorsen has had this season at quarterback, starting three different signal callers in six games on the way to a 3-3 record as his team goes into a bye week at the mid-point in the season, and considering the Mountaineers were coming off an embarrassing 73-42 loss at Baylor, one could only imagine the thoughts that went through Holgorsen’s mind as he watched Smith operate.

“It was fun watching Geno last night. It’s a difficult situation that he has thrived in. He’s going to be a great pro and play for a long time,” Holgorsen said.

Baylor’s 73 points were the second-most points WVU had ever given up, the record having been set in 1904 by Michigan in a 130-0 romp. Considering that Baylor had led 42-7 halfway through the second quarter and came to halftime with a 56-14 advantage and 612 total yards, it is not outrageous to assume that had not Bears coach Art Briles pulled his starters one series into the second half they might have scored 100 points and gained 1,000 yards in the game.

This beating comes a year after WVU, with Smith at quarterback and targeting now NFL receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, beat Baylor, 70-63, with 807 total yards and with Smith throwing eight TD passes.

“It would be nice to have him,” Holgorsen admitted, when asked his emotions while watching Smith perform, especially in lieu of the ordeals WVU has gone through with Clint Trickett, Ford Childress and Paul Millard struggling through a difficult learning period and injuries.

“It would be nice to have any of the six last ones I’ve had,” he added, referring to Smith, Brandon Weeden, Case Keenum, Graham Harrell, Cody Hodges and Chris Hatcher. “Who knows which of the guys on our team right now can keep improving to the point that they are the next Geno Smith?

“They just have to keep playing. You look at Clint and Ford — they’ve only played two games in a Mountaineer uniform. They have to continue to get better. It’s unfortunate that they’re both dealing with injuries, but they have to continue to improve. I have all the confidence in the world that they will continue to improve.”

In truth, on Saturday night it was difficult to watch Trickett struggle with a sore shoulder that had his arm dangling at his side when not in use and that even had him talking on the phone between series using his left hand rather than his right.

With a game plan that called for a number of deep post patterns against Baylor, it was no wonder an injured Trickett could complete but 9 of 28 tosses, one more completion against the Bears than Smith had TD passes last year.

As the Mountaineers enter an off-week before resuming Big 12 play at home against unbeaten Texas Tech at noon on Oct. 19, Holgorsen plans to have Trickett rest his shoulder and Childress rest his torn pectoral muscle.

He said he was uncertain which one would start against Texas Tech, noting that Childress had “done nothing to lose his job” other than tear the muscle and that Trickett owned the upset victory over No. 11 Oklahoma State and played well enough in that game to be the starter if healthy.

“It’s rest and recovery this week,” Holgorsen said. “We have a beat-up football team. We’ve been playing a lot of snaps defensively, and those guys are worn down. It had something to do with what happened on Saturday; Baylor also was efficient. Offensively, we’re playing more bodies because we’re trying to figure out what our dynamic is and what our makeup is going to be.

“We’re really just trying to get healthy. We got away from it a little bit this weekend, and this week we will get out there and just try to keep improving. We’re a football team that’s very inexperienced and needs to get out there and keep improving. The coaches, assistants and I all have to keep improving. The players need to keep improving, and what we’re seeing on the field offensively, defensively and special-teams-wise needs to keep improving.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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