The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 12, 2011

Holgorsen: Smith not yet finished product

MORGANTOWN — Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia University’s head football coach, turns out quarterbacks the way General Motors turns out automobiles.

And he may get more mileage out of them than GM does from its cars.

At the halfway point of this season, it is strikingly evident that Holgorsen is the premier quarterback coach in college football, perhaps the premier offensive mind.

If you look at the top five quarterbacks in yards per game, three of them are products of his teaching and the system that he teaches, including the top two.

First is Case Keenum of Houston, who was molded into a quarterback two years ago when Holgorsen was his offensive coordinator. He is averaging 384.83 passing yards a game, and if you think it’s just because he throws a lot of passes, guess again, because he is completing 71.43 percent of his passes.

Second is Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State, who came to Holgorsen late in life after giving up a baseball career, quickly becoming one of the nation’s top QBs and leading the Cowboys to 10 victories last year.

This year Weeden is averaging 376 yards passing a game while completing a ridiculous 75.8 percent of his passes.

The third and fourth top passers are Nick Foles of Arizona and Landry Jones of Oklahoma.

Fifth is West Virginia’s very own Geno Smith, just six games into working with Holgorsen and his system and his completing 63.95 percent of passes and throwing for 359.83 yards a game while completely changing the culture of football at the school.

Smith already owns the two top passing games in school history, 463 yards against LSU and 450 against Connecticut, neither exactly a patsy.

And if you think those record performances are safe, Smith comes out of this off week facing a Syracuse team that ranks 111th out of 120 NCAA teams in pass defense, giving up 296 yards a game.

Holgorsen also has another rather bizarre quarterback tie-in this year, this with the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, Stanford’s Andrew Luck. It was Luck’s father Oliver, himself a former NFL quarterback, who was so impressed with the job that Holgorsen was doing with QBs that he hired him to coach at West Virginia, where Oliver Luck is athletic director.

So it was during an off-week that it seemed the perfect time to analyze the three quarterbacks he had coached, to compare them and explain whether it was the quarterback or the system that made them reach such heights.

“I’ve got my hands full with the one I’m coaching right now,” Holgorsen began. “He’s a daily challenge. He learned stuff again this past week. He gets so wrapped up in the game – which is a good thing – but it means so much to him that he wants to be successful on every play that he tries too hard at times.

“He’s a great player, and he will get better and better over the next year and a half to the point where you will see a finished product, but you’re not looking at a finished product right now.”

Holgorsen seems to be the type that is always honest in his evaluations, and he is quick to point out that the other two quarterbacks – Keenum and Weeden – are more advanced than Smith is.

“Weeden and Keenum are more finished products; they have taken more snaps in the system. When I left Houston and Oklahoma State they kept the same system for a reason. They wanted to have the same guy doing the same system — Case for four years now and Brandon for two years now — and you’re seeing some pretty good football out of those guys. They’re both 6-0 and playing at a very high rate right now. We’re 5-1 and not playing at that high a rate offensively.”

Holgorsen then was asked if there was a trait that tied the great quarterbacks together, something more than the obvious physical attributes that are necessary for success such as a strong, accurate arm.

“Knowing exactly what to do with the ball, understand what we are trying to accomplish,” Holgorsen answered. “They understand it a little better than Geno does right now. Geno can do some things better, and they understand a little more based on experience.”

That explains why the other two are completing better than 70 percent of their passes and Smith is completing “just” 63 percent, even though he has a stable full of talented receivers.

Holgorsen almost can’t wait until Smith reaches the same point of understanding that Keenum and Weeden have reached.

“It will be fun a year from now watching Geno with that kind of experience under his belt, knowing exactly what to do and being on the same page and being a year advanced. Then you can start talking about good offensive football.”

Coaches often will say the only thing you can’t teach is experience, and while it has become a cliché, it has become one because it is true.

They try to give Smith some experience by showing him tape of Keenum and Weeden every week.

“Our job as coaches is to see he gets better every week, but it takes time. It’s not a snap of your fingers. It’s not like you can just show it to him on tape and say, ‘Go do it!’ Like I say, he can do some things they can’t do across the country. His competitiveness is something that’s irreplaceable.

“But it takes experience; it takes time to get to the point where it’s more efficient.”

So, if Smith doesn’t have the patience because of his competitiveness, the coach must. He has to teach, and the best way is to show him in the film room, be it himself making mistakes or misreads or Keenum and Weeden doing something right.

“The best way for a kid to understand things is to see it. Kids are so video oriented, maybe because of video games, if they see it they will probably deal with it better,” Holgorsen said.

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

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