By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
In the wake of Saturday’s shocking 55-14 loss to Kansas State, West Virginia University quarterback Geno Smith wandered into a rapidly emptying out media room, the only player to show his face at the moment.
That alone made Smith something special, for this had not been one of those evenings when he was being fawned over as the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, but instead a night that would be filled with a lot of difficult questions aimed at trying discover what went into the devastating loss and why he had thrown for a season-low 143 yards along with his first two interceptions of the year.
“Two interceptions and putting the ball on the ground, that’s three things that cost this team. I can only point the finger at myself because of that. I control that. I have to do a better job of putting the ball where it is catchable,” he would say.
Certainly he was under much pressure from a pass rush conducted by a group of defenders foaming at the mouth like rabid dogs, but he would not blame his line or his receivers or anyone else.
“I can’t really put my finger on that,” the quarterback said. “There are a number of things that went wrong, but I am not going to sit here and point fingers at anyone else. I am the leader of this team, and I am the leader of the offense.”
These were brave statements, to take the loss and put it on his own back, to accept whatever blame should have come his way and a lot more that should have been pointed in other directions.
As brave as it was, as unselfish as it was, it wasn’t at all what his coach, Dana Holgorsen, wanted to hear out of him.
“Geno and I have talked,” Holgorsen said at his weekly press conference, a wide-ranging discussion of his team, his players and where they go from here with two straight losses to live with until playing TCU on Nov. 3.
“He doesn’t need to say that. He is one of many positions that play football here. If he thinks that all of this falls on his shoulder, then he is sadly mistaken.”
Holgorsen wasn’t being critical of what could appear to egomaniacal on Smith’s part, that he and he alone decides the fate of the team.
No, he was being critical of what that comment showed about his mentality at the moment.
“He is one of our leaders, and he is a tremendous football player,” Holgorsen continued. “He cares more than anybody. He is responsible for a lot of points and a lot of wins.
“This doesn’t fall on his shoulders. This falls on all our shoulders – all of our coaches and all of our players. He is only one piece to everything. For him to be at his best, he needs to understand that the only thing he can do is take the snap and go where we want him to go with the ball. If that is all he worries about, then he is going to be more productive.”
Then Holgorsen hit upon the key point he was trying to make about the way Smith has taken the turn in fortunes the Mountaineers have suffered through.
“He needs to relax a bit and not bear that burden. We are going to get him back on track,” he said.
It is far too easy for a quarterback to assume the blame, for in victory he usually takes down all the glory.
But this team, as Holgorsen would note, has a lot more wrong with it than just a few misplaced passes by a quarterback who was due to have a bad day.
“It is more of a mentality. We have to do a better job of offensively playing our game,” Holgorsen said, discussing what has gone wrong. “Defensively, we have to get better at everything we do. We have to understand the situation. The alignment and technique have to improve. Hopefully, we will get healed up and re-energized for the final five weeks of the season, which will be a grind just like the previous five weeks have been.”
The defense has been dismal all season, the offense for just the past two weeks.
“On offense, we haven’t played with great tempo. When we play best, we have great tempo. There are things that you need to have settled. A good balance of that is when we are at our best. We were probably a little too settled last week, which is 100 percent my fault. We should have pushed the envelope on some things.”
These are things that will be addressed in practice this week while the coaches are going to spend a good deal of time recruiting, often at the junior college level, in hopes of finding “some guys that want to be Mountaineers,” Holgorsen said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.