Geno Smith plummeting after hot start, he still has shot at redemption

Smith's early success this season earned the respect of NFL scouts

Everybody knows the story of the tortoise and the hare.

It's one of Aesop's Fables in which a much-faster hare challenges a tortoise to a race. After jumping out to a big lead, the hare decides to take a nap and awakens to find the slow moving tortoise has won the race.

The moral to the story is slow and steady wins the race.

That lesson could apply to West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith.

Smith quickly jumped out to an impressive start as the Mountaineers won their first five games of the season. His numbers were astounding as the Miramar High product threw for close to 2,000 yards with 24 touchdowns. His biggest accomplishment was not throwing an interception since Dec. 1, 2011, a streak that lasted 326 consecutive attempts before it was snapped against Kansas State.

It was a quick start for sure and it had everyone standing up and taking notice.

Before Saturday's game against Kansas State, Smith was considered to be one of the best quarterback prospect in his class, according to ESPN college football and NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay.

"It's not Matt Barkley, it's Geno Smith who is the premier quarterback to chase," said McShay on a teleconference call Friday afternoon. "It wouldn't surprise me if he's the first quarterback taken."

Tall praise considering Smith was a forgotten man in college football a few years ago. He saw limited action his freshman year behind quarterback Jarrett Brown and during his sophomore year, he quietly threw for 2,743 yards with 24 touchdowns to lead the Mountaineers to a 9-4 record.

The following season, a messy coaching divorce took place in Morgantown, leaving Smith to learn a new offensive system under new coach Dana Holgorsen. Holgorsen was known for his up-tempo, high-scoring offense at Oklahoma State and he brought that style with him to West Virginia.

Everything seemed to click for Smith under the new system. He threw for career-highs in yards (4,385) and touchdowns (31) and his performance in the Orange Bowl – 407 yards passing and six touchdowns – added to his legacy in South Florida.

After his hot start, Smith has cooled down a bit following back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State. He's only completed 57 percent of his passes (50-of-87) for 418 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. West Virginia has been outscored 104-28.

He's plummeted faster than Felix Baumgartner when it comes to the Heisman Trophy race.

However, that doesn't mean he can't recover. Like the tortoise, Smith has plenty of time to regroup. He can still prove he can handle adversity and has the physical potential to be a playmaker at the next level.

"There are little things that he can improve upon," McShay said. "But overall, when you look at his body of work and where he's headed and having spent time with him and knowing his approach to the game and how competitive he is, the leadership quality that's he brings the football intelligence that he has blew me away."

Smith will have to rely on that approach in the coming weeks with big games still left on the schedule including TCU, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Iowa State. How he handles himself in those contests could go a long way in determining how far he goes in the NFL.

"Now there is no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in this class, but Geno Smith is the closest thing we'll have in 2013, I believe," McShay added.

In Smith's case, it may not be his hot start this season that most NFL teams will remember, but how he finishes.

mmurschel@tribune.com

What home-field advantage?

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