By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
If this were a perfect world, and on Thanksgiving Day why can’t we imagine that it is, then it will all happen on the same play.
That’s how Geno Smith would want it. That’s how Stedman Bailey would want it.
The former high school teammates from Miramar, Fla., each goes into the Backyard Brawl at 7 p.m. Friday sitting on the verge of breaking a major West Virginia University record, Bailey needing seven yards in receptions to set the team single-season receiving record held by David Saunders, and his quarterback Smith needing 111 yards to break Marc Bulger’s single-season yardage record of 3,607 yards.
So why couldn’t it happen that Smith could come out and open the game completing a pass to Tyler Urban, maybe one to Ivan McCartney and another or two to Tavon Austin before Bailey gets loose beyond the secondary for a 65-yard score to set off a fitting celebration of the score and the records.
That would be fine with Smith, for he knows where he stands in relation to Bulger’s record and knows its place in the scheme of things, which is not quite as high as winning the Backyard Brawl and putting the team in position to get a Big East championship and the BCS bid that goes with it.
“It does mean something to me, not for my ego, but just to have my name mentioned with the great quarterbacks who passed through here,” Smith said of the record. “To be tied to our athletic director Oliver Luck, he was one of the best.”
Smith, in fact, keeps in his locker a football emblem of Luck and then-Gov. Joe Manchin, a reminder of the kind of people who have quarterbacked before him at WVU.
That none of the QBs who have come before him will have thrown for more yards in a single season says something, although Smith has not yet grasped it yet.
“It probably won’t hit me until I’m gone. Right now I’m staying in the moment. The thing I’m focusing on is the victory. The stats, the numbers and all that ... I could not care less about that. I’m focusing on trying to get us a win,” he said.
To do that in Backyard Brawl CIV, he will have to be at his best against a hard-rushing defense that Pitt throws at you. It will be all that more hard-charging considering the emotion that comes with the game and the realization that the Panthers, like WVU, must win out to have a shot at the title and the BCS.
“They have a very athletic defensive line and play extremely hard. They mix it up. They are a good defense. They lead in sacks. I have to be mindful to get the ball out of my hands,” he said.
Certainly the focus of the Pitt defense centers around Smith, whose passing is what makes WVU go.
“Where (Geno Smith) poses the biggest problem is his ability to throw the football down the field,” said Pitt head coach Todd Graham. “He has a tremendously strong arm. He is a seasoned veteran, and he has a great feel for his receivers. Those guys have a great synergy amongst each other, you can tell.”
Graham, of course, knows what WVU coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense can do, losing to him three times at Tulsa and being scorched for 70 points and 46 when Holgorsen was at Houston and 65 last year when he coached Oklahoma State.
This year the supporting cast of receivers for Smith isn’t any less than it was in those three monster games by Case Keenum or Brandon Weeden.
“He has got a tremendous rapport with his receivers, especially Bailey and (Tavon) Austin,” Graham said. “He knows where they are going to be, and they have great timing. They are really good. They are two of the better receivers in the country.”
And what makes them so effective is that they do different things, complementing each other.
“They are very different,” Graham said. “Austin is an inside receiver who can hit you with reverses, screens and seam patterns. He is going to catch the ball and run with it. Bailey can stretch the field and is as good of a route runner as there is. They are a really strong combination.”
Smith is the triggerman to it all. He spreads the ball around, runs the offense the way Holgorsen wants him to run it.
“I work on the balance every day in practice. I have to figure out when you can take your shots, when you have to manage each play. You have to figure out what Coach Holgorsen wants; you have to figure out what’s best for the offense at the time — you know, down and distance, situation,” Smith said.
“All that plays a major part in being a quarterback in this offense. It’s not just going out there and throwing the ball. I have been working on that tirelessly. Friday is another chance for me to go out and affirm myself.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.