If things go the way Geno Smith would like them to go today when an unbeaten Maryland team enters Puskar Stadium to take on the West Virginia University Mountaineers at noon, he would like to be able to let his emotions in the final minutes of the game be more celebratory than they were at Marshall.
At that time, you may recall, he needed to engineer a fourth-quarter rally, much of it on the strength of an arm that would complete 13 of 17 passes in two 90-plus yard drives, maybe more of it done on his fiery leadership.
He slammed his helmet down, verbally addressing his offense and imploring them — no, the right word is more challenging them — to go out and win a game that seemed unwinnable.
That made quite an impression on one man — head coach Bill Stewart.
“At one point, I saw him blistering the offensive line. He threw his helmet down and got after them a little bit. What else would I need to say? On the last drives, he said, ‘We are going to do this.’ He looked at everyone in the eye and looked dead at me and said, ‘We are going to do this. We are going down that field.’ I looked at the line and the others and said, ‘Let’s follow him. Let’s go down the field and let’s get it done.’ He’s got it.”
It, the way Stewart emphasized, should probably be spelled IT, as in that indefinable something that allows certain people to lead.
Now not everyone was thrilled with that. His offensive coordinator, Jeff Mullen, admitted that it caught him a little off guard.
“He hadn’t earned his spurs yet. This is still Jock and Noel’s football team. They are our senior leaders,” he said. “It’s nice to have a quarterback who has made his mark as a leader, but he’s got a long way to go.”
Still, when people look back on the year from a bowl site, his sideline tantrum could be seen as the turning point.
“I hope it springboards us. We had a similar thing happen at Wake Forest in 2006. We sort of stumbled in our second game and went on to have a pretty special season. I hope it’s the same case here,” Mullen said.
Certainly, the offense Mullen has created here rotates around the quarterback and not even as great a running back as is Noel Devine. It’s an offense that can run, but that to date has emphasized the pass.
That makes Smith the man on the spot, perhaps as much as Patrick White was when he quarterbacked WVU, but in a far different way.
Smith accepts the role, just as he did against Marshall.
“It was just kind of frustration (at Marshall). We were moving up and down the field on them, but we just couldn’t finish drives,” he said. “I was trying to get my point across that we have to finish them.”
His performance turned into one of the greatest ever at WVU, making him one of three quarterbacks ever to complete 32 passes in a game and only the second one to throw as many as 45 passes and complete 70 percent of them, athletic director Oliver Luck being the other one.
Smith, however, just sort of “Ah, shucks” the following hoopla.
“Actually, I don’t see what the big deal is. I feel the same way as when I came in. I’m just here to work,” he said. “It was a game, and we came out with a victory. A win is a win and a loss is a loss, no matter what goes on within the lines.”
Being what it is, football is a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” kind of game, and once the two teams step on the field what happened at Marshall is yesterday’s news.
Smith seems like the kind of player who can clean the slate and start over.
“Not to be cocky, but I have extreme faith in myself from the hard work I put in every day,” he said.
As you can figure, with Smith’s emergence as a passer, Maryland faces a difficult challenge for the Mountaineers can both run and pass.
It is even more of a challenge than Maryland presents to WVU, running a two-quarterback offense with a couple of solid running backs. The Terps’ have won as many games this year already (2) as they won all last year and seem to have benefitted from playing 24 freshmen during the losing season.
Jamar Robinson is the starting quarterback and a scary runner, although not much of a threat as a passer. Dan O’Brien is a redshirt freshman with a big arm who has been slowed by injury.
“We will play both,’’ coach Ralph Friedgen said. “(How much) I think will depend how the game goes and what not.”
If the Maryland defense has shown a weakness, it has been to option football, so you can expect that WVU will try a few option plays to try and shake Devine or Tavon Austin loose on big plays, which is somewhat out of character for the offense but nonetheless a part of it.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.