By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia’s Geno Smith unveiled another side to his game in the Mountaineers’ 69-34 opening victory over Marshall that should make him a more effective quarterback and add to the problems defensive coordinators have when facing the high-powered offense in the future.
Smith became a running threat.
He carried eight times for 65 yards and turned a broken play when running back Andrew Buie went the wrong way into a nifty 28-yard touchdown run that displayed a bit of elusiveness on Smith’s part.
True, no one will confuse him with Patrick White as a ball carrier, but no one wants him to be able to do those magnificent things and he understands that.
“I’m not one of those guys who are a threat to run the ball. I run the ball to get some yards when they aren’t there or to extend the play until I can find an open receiver down the field. If not, I try to get 5 or 6 yards and get out of bounds,” he said.
“It’s basically taking what the defense gives me, not forcing things, making the best read and putting my teammates in a position to make the best play.”
That may be understating it, though.
Certainly Coach Dana Holgorsen knows what it means if Smith is considered a threat to pull the ball down and run with it when it is open.
“It makes people think twice about rushing people up the field hard, and it makes them think hard about dropping guys really, really deep into coverage” Holgorsen noted.
Think about that for a moment. It can cut down on the pass rush and affect the defense on deep passes, two highly desirable elements of an offense.
“If they are deep into coverage, they better have someone to spy him,” said Holgorsen, almost biting his tongue when he said it for teams normally won’t worry enough about a Holgorsen quarterback running the ball to go to such an extreme.
“I have never had someone spy one of my quarterbacks. Obviously, I have never had a guy have the offensive ability that Geno has,” Holgorsen said. “He has improved his size and speed. He said after the game that the game slowed down for him, and he is making better decisions. These things are a sign of his maturity as a quarterback and where he is as a quarterback.”
It isn’t like they are putting in a lot of options and QB draws to put the ball in Smith’s hands as a runner. Shawne Alston, Andrew Buie and Tavon Austin are quite capable of making the running game go.
No, when he runs it’s simply a way of avoiding a loss and maybe getting a big play out of it rather than looking at gaining a lot of yardage.
“He extends plays. When plays break down, he can get outside the pocket, receivers can keep moving. A lot of times that’s when big plays develop,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson explained. “Defenses typically have a clock in their head from three to four seconds. When it’s past three to four seconds, it’s hard for them to cover.”
And, should they actually think they need a spy, Dawson believes that plays right into WVU’s hands.
“If you put a spy on Geno, it probably takes him out of pass coverage. That would probably be a plus for us, because we’re going to throw first anyway,” Dawson said.
While it might be fun, Smith understands his limitations.
“I’m an athletic guy. With a quarterback it’s not necessary to be. There’s a lot of guys who don’t run that well, but are great throwers within the pocket and can extend plays with their legs even though they aren’t threats to make a home run running the ball,” he said. “I’m that way. I’m not a threat to take it 60 or 80 yards but I can get 5 or six yards and that puts a stress on the defense because they don’t like to give up any yards.”
Perhaps the biggest reason not to run Smith regularly is that there is a rather large downside.
“It’s scary,” wide receiver Stedman Bailey admitted. “Sure, anyone can take a cheap shot at him and try to hurt him, but he does a good job of getting down.”
And, of course, there is always the chance of him losing the ball if he takes a big hit.
“When I’m running the ball I have to be careful, not carry it like a loaf of bread which I’ve been guilty of in the past,” he said. “I have to tuck, get out bounds when I have to and not try to make too many things happen. Just play within the game.”
In other words, do what he’s always done, only don’t be hesitant to run when the opportunity presents itself.
“It’s not like we’re going to change what we do,” Dawson said. “We’re going to allow him to make plays with his feet. We don’t sit there and tell him not to, but on the same play we tell him to be careful. If you watch, he really doesn’t get hit.”
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A limited number of tickets, which were returned by Maryland, are now on sale at the Mountaineer Ticket Office, for the Sept. 22 contest at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. The tickets can be purchased for $55 each on-line at www.WVUGAME.com, at the Coliseum Ticket Office or by calling 1-800-WVU GAME.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.