By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
MORGANTOWN — VIDEO: WVU vs Norfolk State football
Quarterback Geno Smith led a lethargic West Virginia team to a rollicking second-half comeback in which they turned a 12-10 deficit into a 55-12 victory over FCS challenger Norfolk State, but it didn’t have a thing to do with the career-high 431 yards for which he threw or the four touchdown passes that resulted out of it.
Known mostly for what he does with his arm and occasionally with his legs, Smith this time reached deep inside himself for the intangible known as leadership and used it to drive his team to its second victory of the season without defeat.
Outplayed by an enthusiastic and energetic team that had no business being in the same stadium with the Mountaineers, as evidenced by the 47-point spread that at least one online betting service put out, Norfolk State coerced a chorus of venomous boos to come down upon WVU at halftime.
WVU had to find an answer or suffer one of the most startling upsets in college football history.
Coach Dana Holgorsen did his part, offering a fiery locker room sermon that certainly aroused his team, explaining to them exactly what he thought of their effort and execution, only stopping short of the old John McKay line. That,
of course, came when someone asked him as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their early years what he thought of his team’s execution.
“I’m totally in favor of it,” he answered, without so much as hesitation.
But coaches are supposed to yell at players, and Holgorsen is certainly willing to do that.
“Dana is laid back around the media,” Smith said. “But he’s a Jekyll and Hyde. He was kind of irate.”
So, too, it turns out, was Smith, who was the one person who seemed to be pushing hard while those around him were hardly pushing.
Smith gathered his offense around and laid down the law, letting them know that this wasn’t any way the fault of the offense Holgorsen had them running.
It was their fault.
“I was just telling those guys that the offense has been doing it for 10 years. It hasn’t been the plays. It’s just the mentality of wanting to go out and do it, wanting to be successful, wanting to be a team. I think those guys took heed to what I was saying and I respect them for that. It goes to show my leadership on the team. Those guys are going feed off of me,” he said.
Indeed they are.
“The one person we needed to be a leader stepped up,” said Ivan McCartney, a high school teammate of Smith’s and the target of one of his TD passes. “Then it was up to us to buy into it, and we were buying into it.”
Among those gathered around Smith was Dustin Garrison, the freshman running back who had just had his first college carry. He knew the running backs were performing hesitantly and that they were being tossed around by Spartan defense.
He was there with the other freshman running backs, Andre Buie and Vernard Roberts, and they were clinging to every word Smith said.
“Geno, being a leader, talked about what was going on. He talked about our effort and intensity, how we had to step up,” Garrison said. “I think we needed that, especially from one of our own. It was a good talk. Geno had a lot to say. We all listened. The three of us were together, wide-eyed, listening to everything he had to say.”
It was a different team that went out in the second half. They roared around, past and through a tired, stunned Norfolk team. They scored a touchdown each of the first five times they had the ball in the second half, using only 20 plays to score those five TDs and taking just 6:47 off the clock.
Surely, one would suspect, Holgorsen had done a masterful job of making adjustments, but he’s not one to do much in the way of tinkering.
“We called the same stuff,” he said. “I can assure you it’s nothing schematically. I’m not saying we know everything about coaching or we’re not reaching our kids. It’s not like we just decided to put together a bunch of plays that haven’t been proven to work.”
There are any number of ways to put together what transpired. Smith threw four touchdowns in the game to four different receivers — Devon Brown for 18 yards, Tavon Austin for 3 yards, Tyler Urban for 12 yards and McCartney for 39.
In addition, he and Millard connected with six different receivers on passes of 30 or more yards.
The Mountaineers also got running TDs from Roberts and Garrison.
Now, it’s on to Maryland next week for the first road test of the season for WVU.
NOTES: Devon Brown, Vernard Roberts and Ivan McCartney made their first career starts as a Mountaineer ... WVU’s 55 points is the first time the Mountaineers broke the 50-point barrier since scoring 66 points in a win over UConn on Nov. 24, 2007 — a span of 42 games ... WVU’s team 431 passing yards is the first time the squad gained 400 yards passing since tallying 452 yards against Missouri on Dec. 26, 1998 ... Norfolk State’s 19 penalties and 177 penalty yards are both opponent records against WVU. Florida State (2004) and Miami (1994) owned the previous record with 17 penalties. Additionally, FSU’s 174 penalty yards in 2004 was the previous opponent record.