West Virginia quarterback close to perfection

Posted Saturday, Oct. 06, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Texas A&M's extended road stretch

Texas A&M plays its first road game against a conference opponent as an SEC member today (at Mississippi, 6 p.m.). Because of a hurricane-related postponement of the team's scheduled Aug. 30 opener, today's game is the first of five road trips in a six-week stretch for the Aggies (3-1, 1-1 in SEC). And the lone home game in those six games will be Oct. 20 against No. 4 LSU (5-0, 1-0).

That makes today the start of a season-defining stretch for a team on the cusp of the Top 25 rankings and led by a freshman quarterback (Johnny Manziel). Because of the difficult schedule, coach Kevin Sumlin said many fans are "waiting for the other shoe to drop around here." But he has confidence in the Aggies' ability to persevere as long as they minimize mistakes in hostile environments.

"The key to college football and being a championship-level football team is consistency," Sumlin said. "There are a lot of teams that can play well for three hours one week. Yet, what about the three hours the week after that? That's the hard part ...The ability to keep focus and maintain a certain level of play takes maturity."

Asked about the extended road stretch, linebacker Jonathan Stewart said: "We look at each game as one individual season. We have to let Ole Miss take care of itself. If we start worrying about LSU and Alabama, then those future games will become insignificant because we didn't take advantage of the opportunity we had."

Three storylines

Scoring spree: No. 11 Texas has scored 152 points in its past three games, its most in a three-game stretch since 2005. Yet the 50.6 average in that span still ranks below the season scoring average of No. 8 West Virginia (53.0), the Longhorns' opponent tonight in Austin.

Power of purple: Five FBS teams that feature purple as its primary color are in this week's AP poll, with a combined record of 21-1: No. 4 LSU (5-0), No. 7 Kansas State (4-0), No. 15 TCU (4-0), No. 23 Washington (3-1), No. 24 Northwestern (5-0).

Arkansas free fall: Arkansas, which lost a combined five games the past two seasons (21-5 record), can lose its fifth in a row if the Razorbacks (1-4) fall today at Auburn (1-3).

Games of the week

No. 4 LSU at No. 10 Florida (2:30 p.m. today, KTVT/Ch. 11): Gators keep it close, but Tigers seal the deal with a fourth-quarter surge. LSU 24, Florida 19

No. 5 Georgia at No. 6 South Carolina (6 p.m. today, ESPN): Gritty QB Connor Shaw makes the difference as Gamecocks win for third consecutive season in this matchup. South Carolina 34, Georgia 28

No. 8 West Virginia at No. 11 Texas (6 p.m. today, KDFW/Ch. 4): Texas' pass rush will be the best the Mountaineers have seen this season. But QB Geno Smith enhances his Heisman hopes with a big road win. West Virginia 38, Texas 35

Last week: 3-0 Season: 10-2

Heisman Watch

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith leads this week's Scripps Heisman Poll, which has correctly picked the winner 21 of 25 years.

Player

School

1. QB Geno Smith

West Virginia

1,728 passing yds, 20 TDs, 0 int, 99 rushing yds

2. QB Collin Klein

Kansas State

758 passing yds, 5 TDs, 2 INTs, 289 rushing yds, 5 TDs

3. (tie). RB/WR/KR De'Anthony Thomas

Oregon

302 rushing yds, 5 TDs, 193 receiving yds, 3 TDs

3. (tie). QB E.J. Manuel

Florida State

1,147 passing yds, 9 TDs, 1 INT, 197 yds rushing, 1 TD

3. (tie) QB Aaron Murray

Georgia

1,370 passing yds, 12 TDs, 3 INTs, 3 rushing TDs

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

Long before he blistered the Baylor defense with last week's 656-yard passing performance that included more touchdown tosses (eight) than incompletions (six), West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith offered a glimpse into his unique psyche.

"I hold myself to a higher standard than anybody possibly can. I expect perfection from myself," Smith said during a July trip to Dallas for the Big 12 media days. "Even though it's impossible, I try to be perfect. That's the way I practice. That's the way I am. And that's the way I want to be."

Smith's lofty expectations, through four games, have been backed on the field with an 83.4 completion rate and a 20-0 ratio of touchdown passes-to-interceptions. In football at any level, quarterbacks can't come much closer to flawless than that.

Those statistics have made Smith the runaway leader in the Heisman Trophy race as No. 8 West Virginia (4-0, 1-0 in Big 12) prepares to meet No. 11 Texas (4-0, 1-0) at 6 tonight in Austin (KDFW/Ch. 4). It marks the Mountaineers' first trip to the Lone Star State as a Big 12 member and offers Smith a high-profile platform to validate his Heisman hopes.

Texas fans hoping to watch Smith shrink in the spotlight, overwhelmed by the hostile atmosphere and the Longhorns' defense, should brace themselves for disappointment. Texas may win by plundering West Virginia's shaky defense. But Smith, a third-year starter, is the team's emotional rock as well as its most accomplished player.

"He's the type of player that, when things get tough, he's not going to fold," said receiver Tavon Austin, who has grabbed seven of Smith's 20 TD passes this season. "He's always going to keep his composure and make sure everything's good and everyone else is good."

A legitimate Heisman hopeful?

"He should win it," Austin said.

Smith brings more than numbers to the table. In a one-on-one setting, he displays similar intangible traits to quarterback Robert Griffin III, last year's Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor.

Both players are smart, self-confident, focused and fun-loving. Both are willing to speak without a filter on a variety of subjects and, if necessary, to back up every bit of bravado they offer in efforts to inspire teammates.

Smith, for example, believes the Mountaineers will post a 12-0 record during their first season as Big 12 members.

"We have the team to do it," he said. "I expect to win every game. I expect to complete every pass. I expect to make perfect reads. Is that going to happen? No. But I figure if you hold yourself to that standard, when you shoot for the moon, you land among the stars."

The way Smith has it figured, public discussions about perfect records and lofty goals should motivate the Mountaineers because "the only people who can control that fate and that destiny is us."

Thus far, Smith (6-foot-3, 214 pounds) has controlled every game West Virginia has played this season. He leads the nation in passing efficiency (208.37 rating) and total offense (456.8 yards per game). The Mountaineers average 53 points per game and scored 10 touchdowns in last week's 70-63 victory over Baylor.

Dating back to last year's season-ending victory in the Orange Bowl, when West Virginia pounded Clemson 70-33, the Mountaineers have scored 70, 69, 42, 31 and 70 points in their past five games. All have come with Smith at the helm, distributing the ball to the same core group of skill-position players who will play tonight against the Longhorns.

Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz called the Mountaineers' offense "the ultimate challenge" in today's college game because Smith, a senior, has an NFL-ready skill set and plays "in a great system for success." Smith, a Miami native, also is looking forward to returning to Texas and striking a blow for Florida high school football.

"I'm from Florida and we have this rivalry with Texas because they get to play in all the big venues and get all the [recruiting] love. But we have the better players, obviously," Smith said, smiling.

But he became serious when discussing his team's opportunity to prove it belongs in the Big 12, and can win it, as a first-year member.

"As long as we win games, people will believe that we belong. We're not coming into this conference with the mindset that it will be easy," Smith said. "But we do have high expectations."

They also have a quarterback who seeks perfection on every snap. And has come shockingly close to achieving it on a regular basis this season.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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