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September 29, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN - Quarterbacks are made, not born

MORGANTOWN — Sometimes it is difficult to grasp the concept, but quarterbacks are made, not born.

Oh, there are some blessed with physical assets that direct them to the position, a strong arm and a stronger will, fast feet but a faster mind. They play hot and think coolly, they are unemotional emotional leaders, if you can figure that out.

But it just doesn’t happen that they succeed. There are moments of greatness and, yes, moments where things do not go the way they want.

And so it is with Geno Smith, a quarterback in the making at West Virginia.

He found himself in the crosshairs at Marshall and created a miracle, taking his team on two drives of more than 90 yards in the final minutes of a game played in a hostile arena to pull out a victory.

He was the toast of the town.

He was also a sophomore, as his Coach Bill Stewart, tried to point out.

A couple of weeks later Smith found himself in just as tough a situation as at Marshall. His team had fallen behind early, put itself in position to win if it could just find a way to drive 90 yards.

This time it didn’t happen. The opponent was better, his team a bit off in that it was missing some crucial parts like a starting guard and a Noel Devine at his physical best.

The miracle man had no miracle.

“He did a heck of job. He played as hard as he could play. He played in a tough venue and had a chance to win at the end,” Stewart said on Tuesday at his weekly press briefing and television spectacular. “That’s all you can ask  your quarterback to do. It was his fourth start. I’d love him to have won the game and to have him have made another fantastic drive. You write these folk hero stories about how great this kid is, he’s played four games in college, a 19-year-old kid.”

There were moments when Smith could have pulled this one out. Twice his team had the ball with a chance to win, once it had it at the LSU 31, third and 11. The call was a pass, as 92,000 fans and 11 defenders knew it would be.

LSU brought the house.

“I made a blitz tape,” Stewart said, remembering most that one play. “Third and 11, 10 minutes to go, the one he threw to Jock, with seven man pressure, with four receivers out. That leaves five blockers and seven coming. He stepped right up there and delivered that ball. If the route was a little bit shorter, we might have put the ball in the end zone.”

Sanders probably should have seen the blitz coming and shortened up his route, but he didn’t and the pass fell harmlessly to the turf.

It had been that way for most of the night for Smith, LSU defenders closing in on him with nothing but bad intentions. He just stood there and threw.

“I’ll tell you what I learned about him,” Stewart said. “How tough he is. He got hit in the mouth several times. They blistered him.”

But he stood tall as he could stand.

He stood tall two days later, accepting responsibility for some things that might not even have been his fault.

“There were a couple of plays here or there where I could have made a better throw or a better read or the running back could have hit the hole or got one more block. That’s the way the game goes. Sometimes you don’t make enough plays,” he said.

Simple as that.

The situation got down to this, a little more than two minutes to play, still down 6, third and 2 backed up at their own 15. The crowd was roaring, there was some confusion, a time out was called to make sure that everyone was on the same page of the playbook.

That page was the one where Smith ran a speed option to the left. A questionable call? Yes, but he had some success with the play running to the right, but sometimes it isn’t exactly best to ask your quarterback to do something that a fullback or tailback should be doing.

The play was stuffed.

Now, two days later, Stewart was asked what the one lesson Smith should have taken out of that game was.

“Trust his coaching,” he answered. “The last one, when he ran, he hurried it. He had success early on with the speed option to the right. He got in a hurry and tried to make a play, just being a competitor.”

Again, Smith could have questioned the call in hindsight, could have blamed the blocking, but he opted to take the high road.

“It was a play where I kind of misread. I should have pitched the ball,” he said. “But that’s over with, let’s move on from there.”

And that is just how it will be. In reality, when you think of it, were it not for the mistakes the Mountaineers made early in the game, giving away 17 points, they played LSU equally, if not actually outplaying them.

Smith is ready to move forward.

“I think everyone is of that frame of mind,” he said. “I talked to the guys after the game. I spent my entire Sunday with the team, we were hanging out, talking about the game and decided let’s just go out and get it from here on out.”

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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