Quarterback Geno Smith #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
During this past offseason, somewhere between Dana Holgorsen getting hired as WVU's HC-in-waiting to "Stewpocalypse," Geno Smith's name began to be tossed into the Heisman discussion for this season. Bruce Feldman, then of ESPN, listed Smith as his top dark-horse Heisman candidate. He did that on the strength of Smith's sophomore campaign and the fact that offensive guru, Dana Holgorsen, was going to install his high-powered brand of offense.
Holgorsen has a history of taking average quarterbacks at the college level and transforming them into players that shatter school records. Before Holgorsen arrived in Houston, Case Keenum threw for 2,259 yards, 14 TDs, and 10 INTs. In one season under Holgorsen, Keenum threw for over 5,000 yards and threw 44 TDs against only 11 INTs. In Holgorsen's only season at Oklahoma St., he worked similar wonders on Brandon Weeden. Weeden was a junior taking over for the departed Zac Robinson. Weeden only threw 24 passes during his sophomore season. Under Holgorsen, Weeden threw for 4,277 yards, 34TDs, and 13 INTs. Both Keenum's and Weeden's years broke passing records for their schools.
Last season, Geno Smith, under Jeff Mullen, took the place of graduated Jarrett Brown, and had a very solid season. He threw for over 2,700 yards and 24 TDs against only 7 INTs. Those were better stats than either Keenum or Weeden had the season before Holgorsen arrived. So far this season, Smith has flourished. Last week he set a school record for completed passes in a game with 36 and became the first Mountaineer in history to throw for over 300 yards against Maryland. Through the first 3 games, Smith has thrown for 1,008 yards (the best 3 game start for a Mountaineer QB since Jeff Hostetler in 1982 (795)), 7 TDs, and only 1 INT.
What will Smith do against LSU on Saturday night? ESPN GameDay will be on hand, and the game is ABC's primetime game of the week (8:00 p.m.). Some of the top college football analysts will be in the stadium to analyze the players and the game.
Thus far through three games, the Mountaineers are 15th in the FBS in scoring with 42.0 points a game. They've rolled up over 1,000 yards in total offense in the last two weeks. Most of the yardage against Norfolk St. came in that second half. Last week, against Maryland, 3 different Mountaineers tallied over 100 yards receiving for the first time in school history (Austin, Bailey, and McCartney).
LSU's defense is fast, smart, and deep. Some thought that losing Patrick Peterson would set them back in the secondary, but the Tigers just reloaded. The secondary is a strong as ever, and the defensive line spent almost as much time in Mississippi State's backfield last week as Bulldog RB Vick Ballard. In what was supposed to have been a test last week against Mississippi St., the Tigers held the Bulldogs to under 200 yards of total offense after they had racked up over 1,100 yards in total offense during the first two weeks of the season. Currently, LSU's defense ranks 6th in the nation. Last season against LSU, Smith was held to 119 yards passing, but he did have 2 TDs. LSU held the Mountaineers to 177 yards of total offense.
What about this week's game? What hope does Geno Smith have to put up big numbers against this LSU defense? First, if there's a chink in LSU's defensive armor, it is against the pass. LSU ranks 19th in the FBS in passing defense. In 2010, Holgorsen faced two top-10 defenses. They lost to Nebraska 51-41. Nebraska boasted the 9th ranked defense, but Holgorsen's offense was able to put up 485 total yards. OK St. also defeated Texas who ranked 5th in total defense, but Brandon Weeden was still able to compile 409 passing yards.
So far this season, Smith ranks 4th in the nation in total passing yards. Many believe that, barring injury, Andrew Luck of Stanford (also WVU AD Oliver Luck's son) will be the leading contender for the Heisman Trophy this season. Thus far, he has 786 yards passing with 8TDs and 1 INT. Matt Barkley of USC, Kellen Moore of Boise St., Denard Robinson of Michigan, and Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina are all in the Heisman discussion as well.
It's still very early in the season as some teams, WVU included, hasn't played the toughest of schedules. Once teams get into conference play, that is when Heisman contenders will start to separate themselves from the pack.
If Geno Smith has aspirations of winning the Heisman Trophy, and a National Championship, a strong game and an upset victory in Saturday night's game against LSU could launch Smith into the top of the Heisman discussion. LSU is, by far, the toughest opponent on WVU's schedule. The only ranked team remaining on the schedule after LSU is a game at #18 USF to end the season. A strong game against LSU could give Geno Smith, and the Mountaineers, the momentum to tear through the Big East schedule which begins in earnest on Oct. 8 against UCONN.