Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Geno Smith has set the college world
ablaze in the first month of the season, going from being just another name on
a long list of Heisman Trophy hopefuls to the man to beat.
It isn't like the 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior is breaking new ground. The last
two Heisman winners, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, took eerily similar
paths to the podium in New York City in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
Two year ago, it was Auburn's signal-caller who was simply unstoppable. Newton
burst on the scene as a one-year starter after transferring from Florida to
Blinn College (Texas) and finally landing at Auburn. His final collegiate stop
would prove to be his best, as his numbers were staggering, while his team ran
the table and won the national title. The ultimate weapon, Newton rushed for
1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2010, while completing 66.1 percent of his
passes for 2,854 yards and 30 TDs.
Relying more on his passing exploits than his rushing, RGIII evolved into
2011's poster child for gaudy numbers, completing an impressive 72.4 percent
of his passes for 4,293 yards, 37 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
Griffin also possessed the ability to run the ball, amassing just under 700
yards on the ground (699), with 10 more scores.
Coach Dana Holgorsen was brought into Morgantown to produce eye-popping
offensive numbers and his system is tailor-made for Smith, who in year two of
the offense seems to be doing everything right.
Although certainly athletic enough to put up solid numbers on the ground,
Smith's forte is throwing the football and no one in the country is doing it
like he is at this time. Smith leads the nation with an eye-popping 208.37
pass efficiency rating, having completed 83.4 percent of his throws for 1,728
yards. He already has 20 touchdowns and hasn't thrown an interception this
A great deal of that production came in last weekend's win over Baylor as
Smith made West Virginia's Big 12 debut a memorable one, completing an
unthinkable 45-of-51 passes for 656 yards (a school record) and eight
touchdowns (a Big 12 record) in a 70-63 shootout. Smith actually finished the
game with two more touchdown passes (eight) than he did incompletions (six).
When asked at the post-game press conference about what impressed him the most
about Smith's play, Holgorsen had this to say.
"Probably everything. We haven't turned the ball over in three games. You're
gonna win if you do that," Holgorsen said. "His completion percentage is
between 80 and 90 percent. He's getting us in the right play. What's there not
Smith hasn't just burst on the scene, however, as his 2011 campaign could be
favorably compared to that of Griffin's in terms of passing. Smith completed
65.8 percent of his passes last year for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns against
just seven interceptions. The year before that -- a 64.8 completion
percentage, with 2,763 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
It certainly helps to have continuity with his receiving corps, especially the
talented duo of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Rivaling any pair of
receivers in the country, including USC's dynamic duo of Marqise Lee and
Robert Woods, Austin and Bailey are getting it done at a record pace as well.
Austin has 48 receptions for 560 yards and seven TDs, with Bailey posting 41
catches for 635 yards and 10 scores. Bailey is second in the nation in
receiving yards, while Austin ranks third.
Bailey had a school-record 303 yards receiving and five touchdowns in the win
over Baylor, dwarfing Austin's 215 yards and two touchdowns, as crazy as that
Holgorsen credits the success of the passing game to the trio's comfort level
with one another.
"The rapport they have with Geno. They've been hanging out together for four
years now and been playing a whole lot of football, and with Geno and Stedman
it goes back even farther than that," Holgorsen said in his weekly
teleconference. "Just the rapport they have makes it kind of easy to coach
them and then year two doing the system helps as well."
While the Heisman has not always gone to the nation's most prolific passer
(just ask guys like Case Keenum, Graham Harrell and Colt Brennan), Smith is on
a team that is vying for a Big 12 crown and perhaps much more when all is said
and done. If the team falters in its run, it will be because of a porous
defense. If it succeeds, it will be because Smith has overcome the team's
Taking the FBS ranks by storm in their respective Heisman years, both Newton
and Griffin have carried it over to the NFL. Newton was named the 2011 Rookie
of the Year and while it's a little early to hand Griffin the award this
season, he's off to a really good start.
Whether or not Smith joins his gun-slinging brethren in terms of immediate NFL
impact remains to be seen, but not veering from the course that has been laid
out for him by his predecessors should be goal No. 1 - a goal which if
achieved, will earn him a trip to the Big Apple and a big piece of hardware
for his trophy case.
The Sports Network