By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
There are any of a thousand things that make West Virginia University’s Geno Smith different, even in the world of quarterbacking … although anyone who ever got to know Terry Bradshaw, Jim McMahon, Brett Favre, Joe Namath, Bobby Layne or Ben Roethlisberger knows that there is hardly such a thing a prototype.
In fact, in many ways, Smith is far more “normal” than the aforementioned group of characters, although it is hardly normal for a quarterback to invest his down time in the world of art, which Smith does proficiently enough that ESPN has done a segment on his abilities in that area.
Perhaps the thing to like best about Smith, however, is that he has never confused confidence with egomania or with boasting. One suspects he’ll never predict victory, as Namath did in Super Bowl III when he told the world while sitting poolside at a Florida motel that he would lead his upstart Jets to victory over the establishment favorite Baltimore Colts.
He also is not the kind of player to ever proclaim himself the best quarterback there is in the land, something most quarterbacks feel, for he is one whose ultimate goal the only goal that is impossible to achieve — perfection.
Last year, as he rewrote the passing record books at West Virginia in his first year in Dana Holgorsen’s MountainAir offense, he believes he simply scratched the surface of what is there and what he must draw out of himself in this second season that beings at noon on Saturday in Milan Puskar Stadium against the downstate rivals from Marshall.
“Coach Holgorsen has gotten to know me and he knows that I hold myself to a higher standard than anybody else possibly can. I expect perfection from myself. Even though it’s impossible, I try to be perfect. That’s the way I practice, that’s the way I am and that’s the way I want to be,’’ he said recently as he prepared for Marshall.
“Sure. I expect to win every game, I expect to complete every pass and I expect to make perfect reads,’’ Smith said. “Is that going to happen? No. But I figure if you hold yourself to that standard ... what do they say, shoot for the moon and land among the stars?’’
Smith is, if nothing else, pragmatic. He knows the situation dictates that there be failure among the successes.
“The fact that the other players on other teams, they work for scholarships, too, so it’s very hard to be perfect,” he said. “Normal percentages for completions are 50 to 60 percent. Seventy percent is kind of lights out for a quarterback.
“I do try to complete every ball, which is nearly impossible, but if I’m in the range of 60 to 70 percent without any interceptions or fumbles, I think that’s good.”
In each of this three years at WVU he has completed 65 percent of his passes, give or take — 65.3 percent as a freshman, 64.8 percent as a sophomore and 65.8 percent last year.
It probably won’t go up a good bit this year, even though he knows the system better, is more comfortable in his second season with Holgorsen, and has better receivers, the best of them with a year in the system also under their belts.
The reason being an upgrade in schedule with the move to the Big 12, Smith having to face the likes of Oklahoma and Texas defensive backs and pass rushes this year.
If one looks at the LSU game, which faced about as good a secondary and pass rush as he’ll ever face, he did break the school record with 463 passing yards, but it took him 65 passes to do that and his completion percentage was just 58.5 with two interceptions.
Bigger and stronger this year at 6-3 and 225, Smith can offset that with his performance in the Orange Bowl, a performance that led to 70 points on the scoreboard.
Did he there achieve even a small slice of perfection?
He says not.
“It was the perfect game, but if you go back and actually watch the game then you’ll see that I made a lot of bad throws,” he said, making a startling revelation of something that went unnoticed in the euphoria of the moment.
“Four touchdowns were tip passes, so I only threw two touchdowns. The team did a great job. But Geno Smith as a quarterback, if I graded myself it would be a little above average.’”
Fortunately, he doesn’t do the grading or, for that matter, the voting on the Heisman Trophy.
He says that is not on his mind, not one bit, and knowing the kind of team player and leader he is, it’s easy to believe. As a realist, he knows that to win the Heisman he has to play his best and to play his best he can’t be reaching for individual accomplishments.
But what of the future? Does he dare allow himself — or, for that matter, do any Mountaineers allow themselves to dream of the NFL?
Certainly, normal students dream of their futures all the time.
“I can assure you that is not something they’re thinking of,” said Holgorsen, quite firmly. “I don’t know how it’s been in the past, but we’re worried about Marshall, we’re worried about our game plans offensively and defensively, we’re worried about going out and playing well.
“We’re worried about Marshall alone, not about JMU. We’re not worried about the Big 12, and we’re damn sure not worried about the NFL.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.