The Times West Virginian

October 20, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Smith versus Klein in WVU showdown

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — The email arrived the other day, the weekly release from the people who award the Davey O’Brien Quarterback Award advancing the upcoming weekend.

Normally, we must admit, it gets no more than a cursory glance for there are far too many of these kind of press releases to read closely.

This week, though, it caught the eye:

Top two Big 12 QBs go head-to-head in Morgantown

Somehow, people are thinking of this Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Milan Puskar Stadium between No. 4 Kansas State and No. 15 West Virginia University that way, so much so that one neophyte reporter asked Geno Smith this question:

“Do you feel like Saturday will be a battle of the two best quarterbacks in the nation. Is that how you’re looking at it?”

Smith looked him somewhat incredulously.

“No. It’s going to be West Virginia’s offense against Kansas State’s defense and vice versa. That’s what it comes down to.”

Smith just wishes the world would realize that it isn’t him against Collin Smith, but he’s fighting an uphill battle there.

Even the Davey O’Brien national release said this about the game:

The game will come down to which quarterback executes their game plan the best. Klein, a run-first quarterback, currently leads all Big 12 quarterbacks with 510 rushing yards and 10 TDs, while Smith, a pass-first quarterback, leads the Big 12 in passing yards per game with 378.50 and passing touchdowns with 24.

With such hype, can the public look at it any other way?

Yet the truth is that Smith will watch no tape of Klein this week, and Klein will watch no tape of Smith. They may not even watch each other during the game if there is much coaching going on on the sidelines when the other offense is on the field.

Still, there is a lot of truth to the O’Brien observation that the quarterback who executes his game plan better could decide the game, the two quarterbacks being so dynamic in their own ways … but you can’t exclude what the running backs may do, the special teams and, most important, the defenses charged with stopping these two players.

Certainly, Klein is a quarterback unlike any other in the nation, if only because he stands 6-foot-5.

“I was a pro-style quarterback in high school. And we threw more than we ran,” Klein said during Big 12 media day in July. “That’s what I was originally recruited to Kansas State to do. Last year took on a little bit of a shape of its own to where, ‘I’ll do whatever I have to do to win.’ I ended up running the ball a lot. But whatever I need to do, I’ll do it.”

“He’s a difference maker,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads has been quoted as saying. “I think he is as good a quarterback at doing what his team needs him to do in all of college football.

“I think anybody who loves the sport of football appreciates Collin Klein. He doesn’t throw for all these gaudy numbers, and he doesn’t throw it a high number of snaps a game, and I think that’s what the game of college football has become. Because he doesn’t do that, he’s unique. He leads, he runs, he throws efficiently, and he finds ways to win football games.

“He’s special.”

West Virginia certainly is aware of this.

“He’s an amazing athlete,” defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. “You see people try to defend him several different ways, and he’s still successful. We’re going to have to get more hats on the ball. They create such a different challenge than last week. It’s the total opposite.”

Klein is such a breed of his own that WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen admitted he had trouble finding someone like him to play his role on the scout team this week.

“Nobody has one (like him). There is only one of him that exists. We wanted (freshman wide receiver) Will Johnson to do it because he is 6-foot-5 and long, but he has a back problem from last week so he is not going to be able to do it. We have a couple of guys that are back there that will go in the right direction. It won’t look like it, and that’s a problem. But that is a problem that exists, and we have to overcome that. If you can find a 6-foot-5 guy that is big, strong and fast, he is probably not going to be on scout team.”

Of course, Kansas State has to be having trouble getting anyone to mimic Geno Smith’s passing, too, so that just may be considered a draw.

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