By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
LANDOVER, Md. —
There are only so many ways you can point out how special Geno Smith really is.
The two victories in this young season, the second coming Saturday over an overmatch James Madison team playing without its best player, running back Dae’Quan Scott, 42-12, in FedEx Stadium before 45,511 fans, say something about it.
After all, he did throw for 411 yards and five touchdowns in this game and for the year has as many touchdown passes (nine) as incompletions (nine), which is a statistic that defies belief, just as the 88 percent completion mark he possesses at present does, a completion percentage that his coach Dana Holgorsen simply says is “off the charts.”
Holgorsen tried to heap praise on Smith, but in reality the words he offered were mere platitudes to what the losing coach in this game offered.
Mickey Matthews is the JMU coach, a veteran with West Virginia in his background, having been a defensive coordinator at Marshall. He is, to be sure, a head coach with defensive roots and as such he knows something about quarterbacks.
And just which quarterback did Smith remind Matthews of on Saturday out of his long background?
Does the name Peyton Manning mean anything to you?
“Their quarterback — you just can’t sack the guy,” Matthews said, aware that on several occasions he had his defenders scratching and clawing at Smith, close enough to be able to identify the deodorant he was wearing, yet at day’s end he had tossed them aside, escaped like a modern-day John Dillinger and finished the day without so much as a grass stain on his uniform.
“He’s quicker than our defensive linemen,” Matthews continued. “When I was at Georgia, we used to play Peyton Manning, and that was the biggest problem we had with him — we couldn’t sack Peyton because he was bigger than our defensive linemen. That’s what Geno is. We’re big upfront defensively, but we couldn’t bring him down.”
Oh, there were a couple of times they were close to dragging him down, but he got the ball off ... and you know it was on target almost all of those times.
And when he wasn’t being hassled, he was downright perfect ... completing 13 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns to Stedman Bailey, the 13 completions being a single-game record for receptions. When he wasn’t hitting Bailey, he was on the money to Tavon Austin, who caught 11 for 113 yards and one touchdown.
And then there was the running back Andrew Buie, known for being a fearless runner but who in this game showed himself to be as good a receiver as you have on the field, catching five for 90 yards, including a long of 30.
In fact, if you are an eligible receiver, there’s a pretty good chance Smith will find a way to include you in the offense.
That’s what he does best, and Holgorsen wants to see it continue.
“He needs to keep making everyone around him better,” the coach said. “He’s doing a great job of making checks. He’s getting us in the right plays. His completion percentage is off the charts and he’s not taking sacks.”
Now, Holgorsen knows it is going to get tougher as the year goes on, but he didn’t know that Smith was already being compared to Manning, so even that may not be a problem.
“Some of the D-linemen we will be facing, they aren’t going to be as easy to get away from,” Holgorsen said. “It was the first time we faced a lot of blitzing in a long time. We’re going to be able to learn from that.
“He needs to do a better job of getting the ball out of his hands when they’re doing a lot of blitzing. He’s not going to be able to sit there and scramble for five seconds.”
Perhaps the biggest problem in this one was the points came too easy at first.
WVU scored touchdowns the first four times it had the ball, Shawne Alston powering in from the 2 for the first, the next two on passes of 9 and 3 yards to Bailey, the second one of them coming with him wide open as the WVU tempo caught the Dukes unprepared.
And then redshirt freshman Dante Campbell made his collegiate catch a scoring one on a 4-yard pass from Smith.
JMU strung together a 33-yard field goal from Cameron Starke, who transferred to the Dukes from West Virginia, and a safety, but the Mountaineers put together a pair of goal line stands to keep sanity in the game and then Smith hit Bailey for a 30-yard touchdown and Austin for one from the 7 to cinch it.
Alston’s touchdown gave WVU a record 181 points in its past three games, the most it had ever scored in three consecutive games.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.