West Virginia QB Smith's running new headache for foes

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No one is about to proclaim Geno Smith a dual-threat quarterback.

He's a pocket passer, and one of college football's best.

But, after rushing for 65 yards in West Virginia's opener, he might have forced opponents to respect another dimension of his game.

Smith is expected to run the ball as a last resort after going through his progressions in Dana Holgorsen's offense. If none of his receivers are open, he is expected to head downfield, rather than throw the ball away.

That's a bit of a change from last year, or perhaps more accurately, Smith appeared far better at making those decisions in his season debut.

"That has been an emphasis. If you look at a lot of NFL teams, especially Aaron Rodgers, he'll run 7 yards and slide. That puts a lot of stress on the defense," said quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital.

"We don't want him acting like he's a dual-threat quarterback as much as we joke around. But we're going to utilize that in the future, and it's going to at least [make] defenses acknowledge he can run when he's out of the pocket."

Smith ran the ball eight times, including a 28-yard touchdown run on a botched handoff attempt to Andrew Buie, who ran the wrong way.

Other times, he rolled out looking to throw, found his receivers covered and ran downfield and then tried to get out of bounds.

"Instead of forcing one downfield and having an incompletion, now it's second-and-3 rather than second-and-10," said Spavital. "He's got great poise. It's never in his mind to run out of the pocket quick. But, if he's not comfortable throwing it, he's going to scramble."

Those decision-making abilities were lauded this week by Holgorsen, who called his quarterback "the best he's been around from an operations standpoint."

The coaching staff has been talking for months about how much better Smith is at running the offense this year, and it showed against Marshall.

"From a handling the game standpoint, getting the calls in, taking care of the football and checking plays," said Holgorsen. "There are a lot of things he does that you can't see unless you're out there."

Part of that confidence, said Spavital, comes from Smith's increased size.

He put on 20 pounds this offseason and, though it is early, the added strength looked to make a substantial difference. He's up to 225 pounds.

"He came down on the sidelines and he was like 'I just feel a lot stronger.' And you can tell," said Spavital.

"I think that he's a confident kid to begin with. But being that strong now and putting on the weight, I think he's even more confident."

One thing Spavital noted is that Smith will need to learn to protect the ball better when he runs.

Marshall never came close to stripping him, but others will try.

"When he's scrambling with the ball, he's got it in one hand, it's everywhere," said Spavital.

"You never know, someone could catch up to him and knock that out easily. So, when he's running with the ball, he needs to take care of the ball better."


Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @JennMenendez


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