By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It’s easy to be good when you’ve been good, if you know what that means.
Go through a game and throw for 400 yards, toss five touchdowns, no interceptions, no sacks ... well, there’s really nothing to answer for, and that’s how it had been for West Virginia University’s quarterback Geno Smith since the year began.
Seventy points against Clemson in January’s Orange Bowl. Sixty-nine points against Marshall. Forty-two points against JMU.
No tough questions coming at you in those games. You can praise the offensive line, the receivers, the coaches, the fans ... even talk about how hard the kindly opposition played, knowing that in reality you’d like to face them every day.
But it isn’t that easy when a few things go wrong, when you face adversity for the first time, when a defense comes up with a plan that makes scoring tough and, more than that, a defense bounces you around the backfield like a pinball on occasion.
That’s how it was after WVU defeated Maryland on Saturday, 31-21, devising a pretty good plan to counteract Smith and his rush toward the Heisman Trophy and WVU’s high-powered offense.
It is at times like these when you get a hint into the soul of that quarterback, to see just how he handles himself when everyone isn’t simply heaping praise on him.
It came about on Saturday for Smith, and he stood taller than he had in those easier, far more successful games.
Smith could have pointed fingers, could have passed some blame to an offensive line that had problems run blocking and protecting the quarterback from a steady stream of blitzers that laid a blueprint for defending WVU for the rest of the season.
He could have knocked Stedman Bailey for not having the same quality game that he seemingly always brings week to week or pointed at Shawne Alston for missing the game with a thigh bruise.
Instead, he pointed that finger at himself and stood taller in a media blitz than he even had in the pocket as Maryland blitzed.
“I have to go and watch film,” he said in the aftermath of a 30 of 43 for 338 yards and three touchdown performance, which most quarterbacks would trade their best days to have.
“From my perspective, I didn’t get into my reads as quick as I should have maybe. We had to call some deep plays because they were blitzing us and we had to keep them on their heels. We couldn’t just throw short passes and allow them to attack us, which they were doing early.
“Sometimes I didn’t get to the right read. I just held the ball too long. They’re some things I need to correct.”
Never once did he talk about the lack of time coming because the line didn’t block the blitzers. In fact, instead of knocking the line, he defended them.
“There’s nothing that needs to be said. Those guys know their jobs. I know what my job is. Those guys mixed it up and did a great job of putting some pressure on me. I had to force some throws and get it out of my hands quickly. It didn’t let me get through my reads,” he said.
“I have to get the ball out of my hand or find ways to extend plays, to not get sacked and get the ball in the hands of the playmakers a lot quicker than I did today.”
And as for the running game being nonexistent, just 25 yards in 25 carries without Alston?
Smith wasn’t biting there either.
“I don’t think it was just Shawne. Overall I didn’t do a good job of getting us in the right checks. They were doing a lot of blitzing. Their game plan was to take the run out of it. You know if we get the run and the pass going it’s pretty much unstoppable.
“They did a pretty good job of eliminating our run and forcing me to make plays, and I guess I did that.”
He managed to figure out that if he got the ball into Tavon Austin’s hands often enough, something good would happen, and so it was that Austin had 13 catches for 179 yards and the three offensive touchdowns WVU would manage ... one of 24, one of 34 and one of 44 yards.
“All of our guys do a great job,” Smith said. “From week to week it’s kind of like pick your poison. Today they double teamed the guys on outside and matched up safeties or linebackers on Tavon, which allowed him to exploit that matchup.
“Our offense is based on finding those matchups and taking advantage of it.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.