Already Pretty - Don't Get Cute

Rod Smith admits he could no more run West Virginia's current spread offense if he was in his playing prime than he could now, as its 34-year-old quarterbacks coach. Besides, he says, it's much more fun to supervise it now – as long as one is not overly ambitious.

"It's a different animal," Smith said. "The duel-threat guy is such a big prescience in our offense. It's what makes us go, really. Defenses have a hard time stopping a running quarterback. If he can throw as well it creates problems."

Smith could do the latter. The 1997 Glenville State graduate threw for a then-WVIAC record 341.7 yards per game in leading the Pioneers, under head coach Rich Rodriguez, to the NAIA title game. That was the early version of the spread, then understood to be a variant of Bill Walsh's West Coast attack. Except the spread didn't use the pass to setup the run. It used the pass to setup the next pass. And the next. And the nearly-50 per game after that.

So it's little wonder that while Pat White and Jarrett Brown wrap ankles, knees and toes with ice, Smith lubed the shoulder with icy-hot. No person other than Rodriguez has seen the evolution of his spread offense more personally than Smith. He has played in it, been a graduate assistant watching it, coached against it and now coordinates a key component of an attack that set a WVU single-season scoring mark with 505 points last year. Yet he knows, oh-so-painfully, that yesteryear's Rod Smith wouldn't be under center now, if he was on the team at all.

"A guy like myself could not survive anymore," Smith said. "When you run a 5-flat, a 5.1 40, it makes it tough nowadays. The athletic quarterback makes it a challenge. It has changed in that sense because you ask him to do more stuff with his legs. When I played it was more of a passing, throw-it-around-the-lot scheme. You relied more on audibles and things of that nature."

Now it relies on a rushing attack some pundits say is too one sided. The preseason-No. 6 Mountaineers, in piling up a 22-3 record in their last 25 games and winning consecutive New Year's Day bowls, have gained 10,665 yards (six-plus miles) on offense, 7,208 yards of which came via the run. That's 67.6 percent. Last season, West Virginia gained 3,939 yards on the ground, an average of 303 yards per game and 6.7 yards per carry. The total offensive tally: 5,998 – another school record and less than a Pat White-body length from an even 6k.

So sure, Smith would love to see the offense relying more on the quarterback's arm, if for no other reason than the melancholy reminiscence of all the flying footballs. As Rodriguez noted, that will come to be in a minor fashion only if the receivers can elevate their game. And if not, Smith asks a great question: If you can run so well, why pass? Why even think about not gashing defenses with the magical mix of speed and power?

Some have stated West Virginia might use quarterbacks-turned wide receivers Nate Sowers and Adam Bednarik, fullback/tight end Owen Schmitt, superback/slot wideout Steve Slaton and all-everything prep Noel Devine in a dizzying array of formations, all without substituting. Throw it to Sowers, over to Bednarik, back to White. Run it with Schmitt, throw it to him, use a Devine decoy. The options are virtually limitless with the number of position slashes to match. It's a complete Kordell Stewart-like offense that actually moves the ball – and has the potential for just as much offensive trouble as it can cause defensively.

"You can get too cute," said Smith, knowing well the pull and enticement of his many weapons. "We have talked about that. We gotta do what we do best. To score as many points as we have and things have been going pretty good for the last year and a half, two years, you have to make sure you don't get away from our roots. You get too cute if you're not careful."

And the implosion happens. "Good habits," reads the proverb, "result from resisting temptation." So, likely this season, does winning.

"You do what your quarterback does best with the athletes around him," Smith said. "They mold the offense around who is pulling the trigger and the type of skill athletes he has around him. That's what makes it work."

The athlete pulling the trigger, Pat White, is best utilized in the run-based setup with Slaton. In the Sugar and Gator Bowls, White made nearly every correct read on handing the ball off or keeping it. WVU moved from its two-yard-line to a foe's 40 in two plays. And it quite literally ran out the clock on Georgia and Georgia Tech with White slicing and dicing his way for first downs to sap the last seven to eight minutes from the game clock, something that never would have happened with the offense as it was run under Smith in the mid-90s.

"It has changed. They have even done different things since I was here six years ago," Smith said. "I had a learning process as well. I am still learning, to be honest with you, but I have a pretty good grasp. You know, you learn a lot as a player, but you never learn as much as you think you do. It's a whole different ball game."

Complete with a new range ripe for picking. And ridden with potential ruin.

Note: Smith said that West Virginia is the deepest team in the nation when it comes to quarterbacks.

"If we're not, I'd like to see a roster, to know who is," he said. "Jarrett Brown, when I got here I thought the looked tremendous, physically, and he looks better now. He is throwing the ball with a live arm, he is making good decisions. He is starting to come into the offense a little bit and understand what we want from him and what he needs to do, his responsibilities. People know what Pat and Adam can do. We have three proven starters, guys that have started and won games.

"With the young guys, it's a learning curve right now. They sit back and take reps and we are working with them on the side. They will get a chance to prove themselves."

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