Checking In, Checking Out

Geno Smith left very little to prove after a 2011 season that was successful by any reasonable measure. But the WVU quarterback admitted he had at least one specific area of emphasis to work on during this offseason.

If Mountaineer head coach Dana Holgorsen ever seemed exasperated with Smith last season, it was because of one particular problem: Smith checking into different plays at the line of scrimmage at inopportune times, or simply checking into the wrong play. Repeatedly, Holgorsen stated last season that Smith needed to learn to simply trust the play calls that came from coaches more often.

In this, his second year in Holgorsen's offense, Smith will be asked to do more -- to not just trust plays as they are called, but find the correct audibles to call at the appropriate times based on what looks opposing defenses present before the snap.

"It's just part of becoming more familiar with the scheme," quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said. "Last year, we were focused on where the receivers were going to be and the protections and how to get the ball out of your hand quick.

"Right now, our main focus is on the run game. There's a lot more thinking involved when it comes to the run than the pass. Our main focus right now is, when we do check, to get us in the right run play. That's where a lot of coaching becomes involved, and I think Geno is to the point where he can handle it all."

Smith certainly would agree with that assessment. The West Virginia coaches and the quarterback's teammates defense have tested him early this fall.

He has been put into less-than-optimal situations repeatedly -- a tactic aimed at seeing how good Smith has become at making the proper adjustments before the snap and getting the decisions on film for further review with Spavital.

"They're making it extremely hard on me. This is one of the camps I've had to think on every down, because you never know what's coming," Smith, a senior, said. "They've sent corner blitzes. Sometimes they send a dog to the field. Sometimes they send it weak-side. It's different things coming every single practice. It makes us better because it makes us think a lot as quarterbacks. That's what you want."

If WVU is to improve its rushing offense in 2012, Smith will need to be a thinking man's quarterback in making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. It was little coincidence that the Mountaineers were down to 3.8 yards per rushing attempt in 2011, a full yard per carry less than their average only two seasons earlier.

Bridging that gap and truly making opposing defenses worry about stopping the run may be the next step forward for Smith and company this season, Spavital said. And while much of the running game's success is predicated on the ability of the backs and the blockers, it's also very much up to the quarterback to make sure the play call is correct for the situation in front of the offense.

"You're going to make mistakes," Smith admitted. "You're going to make good reads and bad reads, good checks and bad checks. As long as you're getting good reps in and you get the chance to get in to the film room and kind of watch and study your mistakes, the good habits you have and some of the bad reads you have, some of the ways to kind of get in and out of that, make good checks, I think we'll be fine."

If Smith thought WVU would be "fine," Spavital went a bit further.

"This year, we can actually focus on how to attack in the run game," he said of the most significant difference from year one to year two in Holgorsen's scheme. "I think that's going to help us tremendously as an offense."

And so Spavital works with his prized pupil on the finer points of allowing that "attack" to occur, getting blockers and running backs in prime position to turn audibles into chances for big plays on the ground.

The work occurs in the film room as much as it does on the field of play itself. And Holgorsen, who seemed frustrated repeatedly with the checks Smith made a season ago, has noticed the improvement already, according to Spavital.

"There's little things out there he can learn from," the quarterbacks coach said. "We've come a long way with the run game checks. Coach [Bill] Bedenbaugh and Coach [Robert] Gillespie, they've been working with me a lot on how to communicate it better on certain plays. There's a lot of looks we get out there, and the run game is pretty tough. I think Geno is doing a good job of getting us in the right checks."

If that continues, the Mountaineers may have a ground game to match their vaunted passing attack in their first season in the Big 12.

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