They say you don’t know what an athlete is really like until he faces adversity.
If that clichéd axiom is true, we will now find out exactly what West Virginia University quarterback Geno Smith is really like.
Oh, he had faced adversity before, lost games, thrown interceptions and the like, the usual stuff that happens to quarterbacks.
But all of that happened when he was just a face in the crowd, one of a 120 or so starting quarterbacks in college football, not the man they were trying to give the Heisman Trophy to in mid-October.
Then along came a pair of difficult losses — one to Texas Tech by 49-14, the other to No. 3 Kansas State by 55-14 in which he threw for just 143 yards and one touchdown.
The aura of invincibility was gone; the fun house mirror that had created an image of perfection had broken with a pair of interceptions, his first since last year.
Now Geno Smith is putting together the pieces and, listening to him speak on Tuesday night in the academic lounge at Milan Puskar Stadium, he sounded as if his true persona is not much different than the one he displayed during the most glorious days of his career.
He understood, that as quarterback, he was the focal point when all that was good happened with the Mountaineers as they climbed into the Top 5 in the nation and the focal point when the bad times hit and they fell to the bottom of the Top 25.
“My thing is not going to buy into the negative or positive hype. I’m going to by myself. That’s all I can be,” he said.
He often had spoken of his quest for perfection when he was doing things like throwing for 656 yards and 8 touchdowns against Baylor and about the realization that it was an impossibility to attain it, but that it would be among the things that drove him.
“You want to be the best,” he said as he spoke on Tuesday evening. “You want to be almost perfect … you know, I kind of throw that word around a lot and it’s hard to be perfect. It’s hard to be 75 percent right with the amount of things going on around you.”
He accepts that, has heard it from his coaches. It is part of the game, part of being a human being playing the game.
If he has drawn any criticism from his coaches it’s that he takes losses too hard, takes his own shortcomings too hard.
“He needs to learn how to lose better,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said earlier this week. “We talked about that this last week, but he is not responsible for the loss. There is a whole bunch of people, probably 50 or 60, that play in the game. There are coaches that are involved in the game. There are a whole lot of people that can accept responsibility for the loss.”
“Dana (Holgorsen) knows that I am my biggest critic, and I’m always going to be hard on myself. I try to keep things in perspective and understand that it’s a team game, and no one man can win or lose a game,” Smith said.
“It is 11 men on both sides of the ball including special teams, and we all have to come together and play as a team. It’s not the end of the world — we’ve lost two games. It’s something that we don’t to ever want to happen, but you have to play the cards you’re dealt with. Right now we are in the situation where we just have to win.”
Smith knows and understands that, but there is this thing inside him that keeps pushing him toward perfection, and he realizes he can’t let it get the best of him.
He says he must “remain humble, remain calm and just play ball,” and only he can control that aspect of his game.
“It’s an experience thing. You can’t coach that. There’s one thing you can’t coach, and that’s composure,” he said. “That goes not for just one person, four or five people on the team, but for the entire team. You have to be put in tough situations and learn how to overcome it.”
It isn’t easy to accomplish, either.
“Sometimes you fail to do so, but you will learn from it,” pointed out.
Someone brought up to him that losing is something more than a loss, that it is a test of character, even a bigger test of character than the act of trying to win the game.
He was asked how handles losing.
“Everyone does it different. My thing is win or lose, I’m going to evaluate the tape and evaluate myself … fairly. I’m not going to be biased and say, ‘OK, what if the guy caught the ball when it’s a terrible pass? That was OK.’ Well, it’s not,” he said.
“You have to be picky; you have to be that type of competitor. You want to be the best.”
A number of his teammates talked about having enjoyed having the off-week to give them a chance to get away from the game for a while, to go home and watch brothers play high school ball, to clear their minds, Smith approached it differently — his way.
“I stayed with it,” he said. “I watched tape, worked on my fundamentals. I’m trying to be a better leader. That’s something you can’t coach as well. That has to come from within.
“I evaluated myself there. Overall, I think I did a pretty job of handling the situation. It’s pretty tough losing two in a row, but you have to keep things in perspective.
“You can’t get ahead of yourself,” he continued. “You lose two in a row, and you can’t think you’re a bad team. You’re not. It’s the same team, the same coaching staff. It’s all about getting back to it and remaining confident.”
And that is how he is taking it, looking forward to TCU, trying erase the bad plays and memories and build new ones as he continues his quest for perfection.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.
They say you don’t know what an athlete is really like until he faces adversity.
- WVU Sports
HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU depth chart sends messages
WVU baseball hosts K-State in Big 12 clash
The West Virginia University baseball team will host Kansas State in a key Big 12 Conference series thisweekend at Hawley Field.
Game one begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, game two begins at 4 p.m. on Saturday and the first pitch for game three is set for noon on Sunday.
HERTZEL COLUMN: NCAA football is thriving in the digital age
The other day Baylor football coach Art Briles walked into his graduate assistants’ office and had to laugh at what he saw.
“There’s five guys sitting in there — a couple of GA’s and some office personnel — and they all are within a foot and a half of each other and not a one of them is talking to each other,” Briles said, describing the scene “Every one of them is on the phone.”
O’Brien leads WVU baseball past Marshall
Catcher Cam O’Brien made a bid at becoming only the second West Virginia University player to hit for the cycle as the Mountaineers jumped on Marshall early and routed their in-state rival, 10-3, behind strong pitching from Corey Walter and a pair of relievers.
HERTZEL COLUMN- WVU faithful again have a reason to root against Vick
It would be one final indignation, that’s what it would be if Michael Vick were to beat out Geno Smith and win the starting quarterback job with the New York Jets.
FURFARI COLUMN- West Liberty’s Crutchfield not interested in Division I
You would think Jim Crutchfield would be a great candidate for a head basketball coaching job at an NCAA Division I university.
HERTZEL COLUMN- Luck open to WVU fans’ suggestions
West Virginia’s fans have spoken, perhaps not verbally but nonetheless have had their voices heard, over the past few years as attendance has fallen at the Mountaineers’ football and basketball games.
WVU athletic department to form Fan Experience Committee
The West Virginia University Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is forming a fan experience committee to discuss the needs of Mountaineer fans with the hopes of enhancing the fan experience at its events.
FURFARI COLUMN- Popovich, now 73, wishes he were playing baseball today
If you’re a long-time baseball fan, you may recall Morgantown’s Paul Popovich.
Mountaineers ready for slate of rivalry games
Looking to put together a late-season run to get into the NCAA championships, West Virginia faces a pair of midweek rivalry games in a crucial five-game week coming off winning two of three games at Oklahoma.
- More WVU Sports Headlines
- HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU depth chart sends messages