Smith proves worth as Brown’s backup
Published: Sunday, October 18, 2009
Updated: Sunday, October 18, 2009 22:10
Much more came out of WVU head coach Bill Stewart's decision to go for it on a fourth-and-10 than just a first down.
Trailing 7-3 to Marshall with less than five minutes into the third quarter, the halftime promise by the West Virginia head coach to be more aggressive led to not only a first down and eventually a win but proof that true freshman quarterback Geno Smith was more than capable of leading the WVU offense.
Smith, who entered after starter Jarrett Brown suffered a minor concussion on the fourth play of the game, stepped up in the pocket to escape pressure before firing a 13-yard strike to receiver Jock Sanders for a first down.
One play later, the Mountaineers took the lead for good.
"You can't harness the great ones," Stewart said on the decision to be more aggressive and go for the first down. "You can't harness somebody. You have to let them play.
"You can't play not to lose. You have to play to win."
Smith finished 15-of-21 for 147 yards in only his third game of the season.
The Miramar, Fla., native played the final 3:35 after Brown left an injury against Auburn and the fourth quarter against Syracuse in last week.
Despite little experience, the poise Smith showed on the fourth-and-10 to check down to his third receiver is a rare feat for a player less than one year out of high school, according to West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen.
"Geno's special," Mullen said. "He's the perfect picture of consistency. He's the same guy every day, and that's a really, really important factor in a quarterback."
Mullen originally entered the game with a plan to attack Marshall's defense with an "aerial show" with various shifts and motions. However, that "went right out the window" when Brown went down in order to simplify the offense for his true freshman.
The offensive coordinator admitted he still should have simplified it more, especially when it came to two-play decisions. But Marshall defensive coordinator Rick Minter put continual pressure on Smith, daring the freshman to beat him.
"Thankfully for the Mountaineers, (Geno) was able to make a few plays," Mullen said.
Smith's 33-yard touchdown to Alric Arnett in the back of the end zone was one of them.
Just one play after finding fullback Will Johnson for a first down, Smith picked up a bad snap and answered with a perfectly-placed throw that put WVU up 17-7 with 12 minutes remaining in the game.
"It was a great play. Arnett beat the guy off the line in man coverage, and I just put it out there for him," Smith said. "It's what we practice, and there was a lot of preparation put into it."
West Virginia head athletic trainer Dave Kerns said that Brown was momentarily unconscious when he arrived to treat him on the field.
"For a moment, he was confused," Kerns said. "But walking off the field, he knew what was going on."
Kerns said his staff will continue to monitor Brown for the remainder of the next few days while the senior's status for Saturday's game against Connecticut is uncertain.
"It's nice to know you've got two quarterbacks," Mullen said.