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June 26, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Smith’s star could shine under Holgorsen

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University has produced a quarterback that is in the College Football Hall of Fame named Major Harris.

The Mountaineers have produced a quarterback that has won a Super Bowl named Jeff Hostetler.

They have produced a quarterback who threw for nearly as many yards as those two quarterbacks combined and had a dozen-year professional career in Marc Bulger.

They have had all that and you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Honest, there’s no reason to believe that Dana Holgorsen won’t come in here and absolutely shatter all the passing records this school has seen … and maybe do it this year with a quarterback, Geno Smith, he didn’t even recruit.

Really, the closer we get to August and the beginning of camp, the more it boggles the mind how much WVU football is about to change.

Think back, Marc Bulger is really the only pass-first quarterback West Virginia ever fielded, throwing for 8,153 career yards and a school record 3,607 yards in a single season.

We’re not here to tell you that Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State surpassed that by halftime of the season opener when Holgorsen took over that offense, but he did fly past it by more than 600 yards on the season … and he had a running back that rushed for 1,500 yards.

You look at the offense this year and, for the first time since Amos Zereoue was breaking records in New York as a high school star WVU does not have a proven rusher who is expected to carry the load and break 1,000 yards.

This, in mid-summer, would appear to be Holgorsen’s team, maybe even his dream team, and Geno Smith’s team.

If WVU doesn’t surpass 5,000 passing yards this year, it will be surprising for Smith showed himself a year ago in an offense that was more pathetic than prolific that he has the potential to do all Holgorsen wants.

His 2,763 passing yards were more than both Hostetler, the Super Bowl quarterback, and Harris, the Hall of Fame quarterback, ever passed for and fly by Patrick White’s greatest passing season by nearly 1,000 yards.

Now Smith gets big-time instruction and is minus Noel Devine as a runner and plus a stable full of receivers who seem capable of doing what Holgorsen wants, which means at least one of them will be stamped with greatness.

Holgorsen may do better with receivers than quarterbacks, for he seems to be collecting Biletnikoff Award winners no matter where he goes … and he has been a traveling man.

Last year, for example, he turned Justin Blackmon into a Heisman candidate and Biletnikoff winner with 1,782 yards in 111 receptions. That yardage is just 60 less than White threw for at WVU in his biggest passing season, as hard as it is to believe that one receiver could do that.

Michael Crabtree, when he was at Texas Tech, also under Holgorsen, also won the award.

With Smith throwing this year, an accurate, cool-headed passer, it is likely that Tavon Austin, an explosive player out of the slot, could emerge as a 1,500-or-more-yards receiver or that a Steadman Bailey or Tyler Urban or even Ryan Nehlen could become a 100-reception man as a possession receiver.

What would seem certain is that the West Virginia blueprint has changed dramatically, that it has gone from the slide rule to the computer, from the cellphone to the smartphone.

The DNA has changed from a football program that was not far advanced beyond the bare knuckles age of prize fighting to bare knuckle MMA cage fighting, a game for the 21st century.

The challenge will be to somehow maintain the thrill that defensive football also produces, to keep the Bruce Irvins flowing into Morgantown and in the public eye, to push toward Butkus winners as well as Biletnikoff winners, for the truth is defensive football is every bit as important and as exciting as is the offensive end.

While there are any number of offensive moments that remain in the mind of a Mountaineer fan, be it the real debut of Steve Slaton and Pat White against Louisville, Major Harris’ run known simply as “The Play” or Amos Zereoue’s 60-yard touchdown run on his first collegiate carry against Pitt, the other night while discussing great moments with Ed Harper of Wells Fargo, a devoted Mountaineer fan, the conversation came back to Grant Wiley’s goal-line tackle of Lee Suggs to win a Virginia Tech game.

The key to coaching greatness is to be neither an offensive genius nor a defensive genius, but simply to be a winner, no matter what it takes.

Email Bob Hertzel at Twitter @bhertzel.

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