The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 20, 2011

WVU offense not yet a finished product

MORGANTOWN — It is going to happen someday, maybe soon, maybe later in this season, but the West Virginia University football team’s offense is going to play as perfect a game as it can play.

And when it happens, it won’t be pretty, at least not if you happen to be standing on the sideline across from the Mountaineers.

What is so easy to forget in this 5-1 start during which coach Dana Holgorsen has begun rewriting the WVU offensive record book is that this team has barely scratched the surface of its potential.

It has played six games.

Six!

It almost certainly hasn’t run all the plays that it can run, not put in the gimmicks that it has, not used some of the formations it can use. Certainly, the running game hasn’t reached the consistency that it will reach later on.

Oh, it’s been good, make no doubt. It is averaging 503 yards a game, more than any other Big East team. It is passing for 380 yards a game, 99 yards a game more than the next closest Big East team.

But you know what? Cincinnati is averaging 41.7 points a game and WVU 40.8, so you can understand why they don’t consider this offense anywhere close to a finished product.

Quarterback Geno Smith, who leads the Mountaineers into Syracuse at 8 p.m. Friday, understands the potential, as he showed when asked just how scary a proposition it was to know that they had not yet played their best game.

“That’s the thing. Eventually, you have to do it,” he said. “Hopefully, the next game we will get rolling. I think we will get there at some point, but we’re not a finished product yet. Obviously, we want to get there sooner or later.”

It is, really, the same as almost everything else in sports and in the world in general. The more you do things, the better you get. You understand how to do it first, then why you do it. You understand what you can do and what you can’t do.

The system that Holgorsen brought to town is proven. He just really hasn’t been running the show anywhere long enough to see what its ultimate potential is.

Think about the man at the controls, Geno Smith, the quarterback.

A year ago against Syracuse he was in a different offense and the Mountaineers were struggling to score, eventually being upset as the Orange squeezed the life out of Smith, rushing him hard, forcing him to throw three interceptions.

That is the one thing that can kill any system.

Holgorsen saw the film of that game and when asked why Smith didn’t play up to his potential, he offered a one-word answer.

“Turnovers,” he said. “Those will get you beat — we’ve talked about that before.”

This year, Smith isn’t turning the ball over. He’s been on the money in a far more sophisticated passing attack, one that will go down the field as well as sideline to sideline. One that will throw over the middle as well as down and out.

And Smith is doing it all

Doug Marrone, the Syracuse coach, made note of it this week.

“If someone were to ask me the difference, I’d say Geno Smith,” Marrone said. “I don’t know what they are teaching and coaching, but I can tell you this: The quarterback has been outstanding. He is much more mature; he stays in the pocket, knows where he’s going with the football. His decision-making process is so much quicker now.”

That means less pressure, which means fewer interceptions.

Ryan Nassib is the Syracuse quarterback and played against WVU last year, struggling at 5 for 15 for 105 yards and a touchdown. He threw no interceptions to make the difference in the game. He knows why Smith never got the offense going.

“I’m a quarterback, and I know that after getting hit a few times, and throwing a pick or a couple of picks, it’s tough to bounce back from,” he said.

Smith couldn’t bounce back last year, but this year he hopes not to be in that situation, in part because he experienced it a year ago.

He remains, he admits, a work in progress.

“I’ve been working hard. I’m not finished. I’m going to work. I’m going to continue to lead. I’m going to continue to learn so I can be the quarterback I am supposed to be one day,” he said.

And when he gets there, look out, because he already is among the elite quarterbacks in college football.

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

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