Student Of The Game

After a 656-yard, eight touchdown explosion in last week's 70-63 win over Baylor, WVU QB Geno Smith has become the object of adoration from those who follow college football from coast-to-coast. But to call him an overnight sensation would be a misnomer, as the senior has honed his craft over the course of several years.

Geno Smith embedded himself in the national consciousness after his performance in last Saturday's 70-63 win over Baylor. But the gaudy stats he put up and the picture perfect decision-making skills he displayed were crafted over countless hours of film study.

Even after throwing for 656 yards and eight touchdowns while completing 88.2 percent of his passes against the Bears, Smith immediately wanted to see it, to know what he had done wrong, to learn what areas he could improve upon.

"He walks in, hands his mom a box of pizza, then me and him go into a film room and start watching tape," WVU quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital recalled.

"You know, Geno can't get his mind off the game. Even when he's at home, he's got film on his iPad and he's watching tape and breaking it down. [Monday] night, like around 10:30 or 11:00, he's texting me and asking what's on the game plan and what he needs to be looking for. So it's always on his mind. He's always looking to excel."

So far, so good. Smith is the prohibitive favorite for the Heisman Trophy after a September that, at least according to CBSSports.com's Chris Huston, included "arguably the best passing stats of all time."

Smith is beating West Virginia's opponents with his brain as much as his arm. He told ESPN's Ivan Maisel, "I know defense like a defensive coordinator. I know offense like an offensive coordinator."

As things stand, it would be tough to argue those points, as Smith seemingly hasn't made a bad decision all year. The evidence? He is on pace to throw 60 touchdown passes and no interceptions this regular season.

"He's been this way since day one," Spavital said. "We've had discussions in the past about how he's constantly in the film room, up here studying tape. We try to tell him to leave here and go be a college student and have some fun. But fun to him is going out there and playing football. It's very rare. I've never coached one like this, to where the happiest he is is when he walks out there on the field."

For his part, Smith seems surprised that people are so enamored with the idea he, you know, actually works at his craft.

"I would think most quarterbacks would do that. I'm turning up to find out I guess it's not a trend," he remarked.

But it's clear something is different about the way the senior approaches the game.

West Virginia's offensive coaching staff, led by one of the gurus of modern offense in head coach Dana Holgorsen, would seem to have the sort of grasp of the game to see every potential weakness in an opposing defense and know exactly which plays to prescribe on a weekly basis.

The coaches certainly form the majority of the team's game plan in a given week. But in a sign of how much respect they have for Smith, Spavital indicated the quarterback himself has considerable input into what plays are the mainstays of the repertoire against each subsequent opponent.

"He suggests a lot. We normally have our game plan in on Monday, and he comes in through the day and kind of chirps to us what he likes," the quarterbacks coach said. "When he comes in on Tuesday, he sees what we've got up on the board for him. We got out there and execute it that day, and we'll watch it ... We'll sit there and talk about it, and if there's something he doesn't like, we'll change it. If there are things he wants to add or he sees as we continue on with a week of watching tape, we'll add it."

Sometimes that extends to the game itself, as last Saturday against Baylor, Smith checked to a play that wasn't even in the team's game plan against the Bears. Given the coverage schemes and blitz packages he was seeing, he was confident the play would work. Like seemingly everything the Mountaineers ran that afternoon, it did.

To Spavital, that's just another sign of how cerebral his starting signal-caller has become over countless hours of film study.

"Playing quarterback in this system, you have to be thinking every single play," Spavital said. "Everybody thinks there's nothing to just turning and handing the ball off, but with us, it's not -- it depends on how the defense is playing it, the demeanor. That just comes with experience, and Geno has a lot of game experience. You can see that out there."

So what drives Smith to deny himself at least some of the perks of being a star athlete in a small college town? Why work so hard his coaches are even advising him to go home and unwind a bit?

To hear the quarterback tell the story, it's not about the individual accolades that are almost surely coming his way -- from major awards to national recognition to what will likely be a lofty selection in next spring's NFL draft.

Instead, like so many of the greats in sports, his drive seems to stem from a hatred of failure.

"We know that with becoming a good offense and scoring a lot of points, setting records and all that, everyone is going to give us their best from week to week. We take on that challenge to not let people have the thrill of saying, ‘We shut down that offense this week,'" Smith said.

"It's happened before, and it makes us feel terrible. So we want to make sure when we go out on the field, we're prepared to move the chains and do things as [well] as possible."


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