“He’s been doing it since fall camp,” said the Mountaineers’ second-year head coach. “We’ve talked about this a bunch, just as far as what he did in the offseason from a physical standpoint. Something happens to guys when they’re seniors, but his body is different. He’s gained weight. He’s bigger. He’s stronger. He’s faster. He’s more confident. So he’s improved. He’s practiced like this since the beginning of August, so watching him translate that out there to games has been fun to watch as a coach.”
Smith’s statistics have raised eyebrows from coast to coast, as the Miramar, Fla., native has accounted for 10 touchdowns (nine passing, one running) and only nine incompletions thus far this season. He ranks at or near the top in almost every major statistical category for quarterback play in the FBS ranks despite playing only one fourth-quarter snap in each of WVU’s first two games.
And in what has to be a frightening statement for Big 12 defensive coordinators, Holgorsen said he has actually seen Smith play better in practice.
“I haven’t personally been around a guy that’s had [those statistics],” Holgorsen said. “But things are going to get harder. We’re going against Maryland [this Saturday], and I think they’re the 8th-ranked defense in the country [in terms of total defense]. They’re only giving up a couple hundred yards [227.33 per game].
“So it’s going to get tougher each week. Athletically, it’s going to get tougher. So if he can continue to play like that against better competition -- it’s obviously going to get harder and harder in the Big 12 -- then yeah, it’s something special. I’ve said it for a long time, but it’s not surprising me that Geno is putting these numbers up. He’s a very motivated, competitive kid who has been doing it in practice the last month. Ultimately, it’s going to be how we finish, how many games we win, that will be what he’s kind of remembered for.”
While most of West Virginia’s regional rivalries have gone the way of the dodo in recent years, this weekend’s opponent, Maryland is one that has stuck around. Holgorsen said he expects that to continue to be the case moving forward as the Mountaineers emphasize the need to stay regional with their nonconference scheduling.
“The James Madison thing over in D.C. was tremendous for our fans. We had a great following. Attendance was awesome. Our support was awesome,” Holgorsen said. “Last year, going to Maryland was the same thing. Next year, going to play Maryland in the Ravens’ stadium will be the same situation as it was for our fans a couple days ago.
“We’re wanting to play regional games, so this is one that will remain on the schedule because it has so much meaning. With that, we have about a dozen or so guys from Maryland that are going to know a lot of their players. We go against Maryland in recruiting a lot. So there’s a lot of familiarity between the two programs, and it’s going to continue to exist.”
While the coach is pleased to keep a regional foe on the schedule, playing Maryland also means having to face up with Stefon Diggs, a highly-recruited receiver who is a multi-dimensional threat both on offense and special teams.
Of course, the Mountaineers have their own player fitting that same description in Tavon Austin. Holgorsen said there are parallels that exist between the two players.
“I know he’s a tremendous return guy. He’s a lot like Tavon is,” Holgorsen said of Diggs, who has nine receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown to go with 152 punt return yards and 123 kickoff return yards through three games.
““He’s their No. 1 return guy. He’s a receiver they get the ball to in a variety of ways. He’s quick-twitch. Just watching him on TV -- I’ve seen their last two games on TV, just sitting around watching as a fan -- he’s a guy who has some of the same traits. He’s a good player. He’s going to continue to get better and better. He’s a guy we’re going to have to focus on and contain him.”
Given the controversy that surrounded the end of Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants (when the Bucs attempted to dive in and knock the ball free as the Giants were in the “victory” formation on the game’s last play), Holgorsen was asked if the Bucs violated any sort of unspoken rules or etiquette.
“Some people would probably view it as that,” Holgorsen said, when asked if the defense, in that situation, had taken a cheap shot at the Giants’ offensive linemen and quarterback Eli Manning. “I’ve been at specific places -- I’m not gonna mention where -- to where the offense would snap the ball in victory and take out the defensive linemen’s legs. They viewed that as a cheap shot, so I would assume the same people would think if the defense was doing it to the offense, that was a cheap shot as well.”