The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 10, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - Pressing issue for WVU’s Geno Smith

MORGANTOWN — It is difficult to find fault with the play of a quarterback who has just thrown for 450 yards and four touchdowns, but that was just what West Virginia University coach Dana Holgorsen was doing as he explained that for all Geno Smith has done in running this team to a 5-1 record and a series of unprecedented offensive accomplishments, there is room for improvement.

“He’s capable of being as good a quarterback as there is in college football,” Holgorsen said after WVU had passed Connecticut dizzy in a 43-16 successful Big East season opener. “I’m not saying he is right now, but he’s capable of it if he keeps improving and improving over the course of this year and next year.”

The problem?

Smith is trying to do more than he has to do to be successful. Call it what you want, pressing seems to fit best, but his desire to succeed is overwhelming his ability to succeed.

“He still tries too hard at times,” Holgorsen said. “There’s a point in the second quarter when he thought he had some answers and did some things we will address. He doesn’t need to take over the game. He needs to play within himself and the system and trust the guys around him.

“Once he 100 percent understands that and keeps getting better each week, he has a chance to be pretty good.”

You might recall one of those situations, perhaps as good an example of what Holgorsen means as there could be.

It came at a moment when Holgorsen looked out onto the football field and did not believe his eyes, and he was not alone. High above the field assistant coaches and media in the press box were perplexed. Fans scratched their heads, which is what the West Virginia offensive line would have done, too, were their noggins not encased in plastic.

The game was at what seemed to be a critical moment, fourth down and one at the UConn 40, the Mountaineers clinging to a hard-fought 10-6 lead with a minute to play.

The offense hurried to the line of scrimmage, only something was terribly wrong. Quarterback Geno Smith was under center. Maybe Bart Starr lived in that neighborhood back in the day when he was operating in the frozen tundra that was Green Bay, but Smith had not taken a snap there all season.

He would admit he had not practiced taking a snap there. It wasn’t even in the playbook … but there he was, running a quarterback sneak which did nothing but get his helmet separated from his head and the football separated from the WVU offense.

What in the name of Amos Alonzo Stagg was Smith thinking?

“That was something I totally ad-libbed and it totally backfired and didn’t work for us,” he said. “It’s something we never worked on. It’s something I never should have done. My competitiveness kind of took over at that point, and I tried to do it on my own.

You have to understand, Smith simply felt at the moment that was the best way to get the

first down … not give it Dustin Garrison, not throw it, but do it himself.

There was only one problem.

“No one else knew what was going on. It was just like, what’s going on? I took the snap and the tackles started pass setting and the guards just stood there. It was kind of like I was going 1 against 11 and it didn’t turn out too good,” he said.

He failed to move forward an inch, had his helmet ripped from his head, then confused everyone even more by breaking loose and running for what looked like a first down. When the officials correctly ruled that he was down as soon as his helmet came off, football rules not allowing a player to run with the ball when his helmet comes completely off, the crowd booed violently … and wrongly.

The point is, Smith was pressing, and he knows it now that Holgorsen has brought attention to it.

“You can’t really feel it,” he said. “(Holgorsen’s) an outside observer, so he can tell because he knows the way we are. I believe what he says is exactly right. We all may well have been pressing because we all want to make plays.”

The result of pressing is never good.

“When you try to do too much you make uncharacteristic mistakes. You have turnovers; you have penalties. Myself, I make bad reads or make a bad throw just because I want to make a play,” Smith said. “When we go out and have fun and play the game and do what we’re coached to do, the offense is dynamic and we can score on anyone at any time.”

How do you tell a competitor not to compete quite so hard?

“You’ve got to coach him into not pressing,” Holgorsen said. “You tell him he is putting too much on your shoulders, trying to make too many plays, trying to do everything yourself. Just play within the system, just play within yourself.”

That is somewhat obvious, but it goes against what he’s been told his whole life and that is to give maximum effort, to play with emotion and vigor.

Holgorsen says that’s right with everyone but a quarterback.

“The quarterback deal is mainly mental. He’s got to make decisions and be aware of his surroundings and let everyone play hard around him. Effort is something we haven’t had to talk about much around here. Geno’s effort is good, but that’s not what’s important for Geno. It’s the mental framework of what we’re supposed to be doing.”

That means relax, let it happen, and keep your hands out from under the center’s butt.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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