By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
No, your eyes or your ears did not deceive you when you learned that Geno Smith won the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week Award for his performance against Marshall but that he failed to win the West Virginia team award for Offensive Player of the Week.
That went to running back Shawne Alston, who powered his way for 123 yards and two touchdowns, a huge day in the WVU offense but overshadowed by Smith’s 32 completions in 36 attempts for 323 yards and four touchdowns.
How did that happen?
Coach Dana Holgorsen explained during this week’s Big 12 coaches’ conference call.
“Geno is going to get a lot of stuff nationally, obviously, and Geno played his best game since I’ve been here,” Holgorsen said. “We could have very easily given it to him but we like to spread it out a little. Shawne Alston played his best game that he’s ever played. (Guard) Jeff Braun was considered because he played the best game he’s played since he’s been here. We could have given it to some of the other offensive linemen.
“You can make a case for a lot of people but Shawne, based on his playing the best he has since he’s been a Mountaineer, I thought it was pretty easy.”
Then Holgorsen went on to point out why it was so easy.
“You know Shawne had about 65 yards after contact, so half of the rushing yards were him just doing it himself.”
While West Virginia’s opening game offense was spectacular, the team many consider their prime competition for the Big 12 title opened without much spectacular happening on offense as the Oklahoma Sooners went to Texas-El Paso and won, 24-7.
Quarterback Landry Jones, who with Smith and USC’s quarterback Matt Barkley, is considered a top Heisman Trophy candidate, had a day that paled in comparison to Smith’s. He threw for 222 yards on 21 of 26 passing.
Jones’ coach, Bob Stoops, wasn’t about to knock that in the first game, focusing on the rest of the offense.
The biggest problem that Stoops saw was inconsistency everywhere on the offense.
“Some of it is really good; some of it needs to be better. It was that way across the board,” he said. “At times we protected well; at times we let a pressure or two get to us. We have to be able to adjust to some things on the fly when we see them.
“Same thing blocking-wise. We averaged 5.5 yards a carry, which is pretty good. At times, when we’re targeting the right people, it looks really clean. Other times we didn’t. Those are some of the things you have to clean up.”
Strangely, Geno Smith wasn’t the most effective quarterback in the Big 12 that first week.
That went to first-time starter Wes Lunt, a true freshman, at Oklahoma State who completed all 11 of his passes.
But ... the opponent was Savannah State.
To give you an idea of how much of a mismatch this was, Oklahoma State was a 67.5-point favorite going in, the largest line ever put on a game out of Las Vegas.
The Cowboys covered easily, winning 84-0 after leading 35-0 at the end of the first quarter.
It forced Mike Gundy to yank most of his starters before he wanted to, including Lunt, and he would have liked to have seen him get more work in.
“On paper he played well,” Gundy said. “Everyone knows he was 11 of 11. He handled our tempo well, but he wasn’t faced with many scenarios. He wasn’t in blitz situation, third and long, or any other things he needs to see.
“This week he needs to run our offense, get the ball in the hands of the right people, but he doesn’t need to try to do too much.”
As for the aspect of scheduling such a patsy first, Gundy noted that Savannah State was probably the 17th school they called trying to get an opening game once the Big 12 expanded and schedules had to change.
“I’m not a big fan of opening against national power,” he said, noting that it makes your preseason much tougher, as you have to prepare as if it were a key mid-season game. “I hated that this game got out of hand. The perfect scenario is not a team that would force your hand that early in the season, but not a team like we played either. I don’t know if there is a perfect game.”
Gundy did not feel it will affect his team long-term, not having been tested and having had to pull his regulars before they got the work he wanted them to get.
“I just wanted to see how Wes handled the big stage and being in front of the big crowd. But we won’t know where our team stands until about a month into the season. The new guys, the chemistry, we won’t know until about October.”
Baylor lost not only a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in Robert Griffin III but a lot of other offensive firepower, and many people thought they would come up short this season, but the Bears went out and beat SMU, 59-24.
“I’m proud of the way our guys approached the game with determination and a lot of hunger and a chip on their shoulder,” Coach Art Briles said. “That’s a place where the media helped us. There are a lot of doubters. Our guys have pride and confidence. This was us showing us that we have a chance to have a good football team and win some games.”
Most important was the way quarterback Nick Florence performed replacing Griffin, hitting 21 of 30 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns.
“He has been around here a long time, since the 2008 season,” Briles noted. “He has some experience. He sat behind a Heisman Trophy winner and had a good chance to grasp some things. He went out and did what we thought he would do, which was be very productive and protect the ball.”
Running back Shontrelle Johnson made an inspiring return to football for Iowa State after a knee injury that threatened his career, leading the Cyclones in rushing with a career high 120 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown in a 38-23 victory over Tulsa.
“We talked to the surgeon and medical team and they said with everything going as smooth as it went, they didn’t think there ever was a question of him making it back ... but everything had to go that way,” Coach Paul Rhodes said. “Then it was a decision between him and his mother whether he wanted to take whatever little risk was left — and the surgeon thought there was none — and continue to play.”
But how well could he play, especially early this year?
“I think it’s a tremendous story,” Rhoads continued. “Most people would come back tentative from an injury like that. First day he put the pads back on he’s never been tentative. He’s always acted and played like the player he was before.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.