MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It’s tough to identify the most impressive thing about West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith’s game on Saturday, when he led his team to a win over Baylor in the Mountaineers’ first conference tilt as a member of the Big 12.
Most might say it was the sheer absurdity of his stat line, and oh, was it one to behold. Unabated by a Bears defense that — let’s call a spade a spade — is the worst in the country, Smith looked like he was playing a video game on easy against an opponent wearing a blindfold.
The senior and third-year starter manufactured one of the finest — if not the finest — passing performances in FBS history in the 70-63 shootout victory, as he completed 45 of his 51 attempts for 656 yards and eight touchdowns. It was more than a big day — it was a clinic on how to run an offense.
It may have also been the way Smith protected the ball that caught people’s eye, as Smith ran his streak of passes without an interception to 222 — a span of more than five games dating back to a win over USF last December. That’s what coach Dana Holgorsen complimented his quarterback on after the game, while offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson lauded Smith for making routine plays in a game full of big ones.
Or perhaps it was the way Smith seemed to make the players around him better, spreading the ball all around the field with ease, coaxing the most out of each of his teammates, despite not having starting running back Shawne Alston available to keep the defense honest against the West Virginia air raid.
Smith connected with six different targets on the afternoon and had three receivers catch at least 13 passes. Each of those wideouts, Stedman Bailey (303 yards, five touchdowns), Tavon Austin (215 yards, two touchdowns) and J.D. Woods (114 yards, one touchdown), had the best game of his career as a result.
Any of those aspects of Smith’s performance would have been due cause to name the Miami, Fla., native the Heisman Trophy frontrunner that he most certainly is.
But, in truth, the more impressive aspect of Smith’s career day — and the reason he’s going to win the Heisman come December and be the top quarterback drafted (sorry, Matt Barkley) come April — was the fact that Smith, himself, wasn’t all that impressed with what he had done.
“I think I’ve had better games,” the humble 21-year-old admitted afterward, indicating that there is better football ahead of him, too. “I don’t want to hang my hat on just one game.”
Holgorsen rightfully dismissed the implication that Smith could have done anything more on his record-breaking afternoon, urging reporters to “please explain to me how he can improve on that.” I certainly didn’t have anything to offer, but Smith was more than happy to nit-pick.
“I could have completed those five or six that I had incomplete,” Smith noted first, concluding that a 51-of-51 day is somehow realistic.
Smith also lamented at the fact that the Mountaineers had three possessions that didn’t end in points — one missed field goal and two three-and-outs — and that he felt he “forced” some of his passes. Given that attitude, it was a wonder Smith let Holgorsen call for the victory formation in the game’s waning seconds.
“That’s just him,” Holgorsen said. “I worry about that with him sometimes. He expects perfection — perfection is impossible. In the game of football, perfection is impossible.”
These are not things that normal quarterbacks beat themselves to death over, but Smith is not a normal quarterback. He’s anal to a fault, a brilliant student with an insatiable appetite for football knowledge. He’s the best player in the country, and all he can think about is how he can get better.
Smith takes his job so seriously that reporters Saturday felt compelled to ask his teammates whether Smith would even take time to enjoy a 656-yard, eight-touchdown game before he shifted his focus to the next one. And those teammates actually had to give the question some serious contemplation before answering.
“He put together a great game and broke a couple records here today,” said Bailey, grinning, a box of pizza in his lap. “Why not celebrate?”
If you ask Smith, he’ll tell you it’s because there’s a road game against Texas (on FOX, 7 p.m. ET) in less than a week, and you can’t sleep on the No. 11 Longhorns and David Ash, arguably the second-best quarterback in the country, (though he’s no Geno Smith). Texas allows only 210 passing yards per game, and Smith doesn’t have a whole lot of time to find a hole in their system to exploit.
That’s why not.
“We’re going to take it day by day and a game at a time,” Smith said. “We’re 4-0, we’ll put those four behind us … We’re on a mission, and we want to win them all.”
If the Mountaineers can find a way to do that, and given their suspect defense, just getting past Texas will be a loaded task, they’ll be playing in a fourth BCS bowl game in the past eight years and the first national championship in school history come January.
And Smith will definitely be shopping for a new trophy case.
Of course, Smith doesn’t want to talk about the big picture or the personal accolades — he insists that he couldn’t care less, and because of who he is, you believe him — but by all means, he says, debate it all you want. He’s not listening, and it won’t affect him either way, anyway.
“We don’t believe in pressure around here because at the end of the day, it’s still a football game,” Smith said. “We’ve got to go out there and do our job, and that’s something we all love to do. Which is why there’s never pressure, especially for me.”
Said Holgorsen: “He’s the one kid on our team that’s not fazed by anything, I don’t care what you throw at him. … Regardless of if I put them on him or you all put them on him, he has higher expectations for himself and can handle just about anything.”