Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville got his first up-close-and-personal look at the country’s most ballyhooed quarterback this summer on a field in Thibodaux, La.
There, at the Manning Passing Academy, Geno Smith, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound West Virginia signal-caller, threw alongside some of the nation’s top passers.
At least one coach thought he was the best of the bunch.
“He was the guy that kind of stood out among everyone,” Tuberville said.
Smith has continued to do just that through five games this season, leading the Mountaineers to an unblemished record and a No. 5 national ranking. He leads the nation in passing yards per game (399), touchdown passes (24) and completion percentage (81.4). Oh, and he hasn’t thrown an interception since Dec. 1, going 257 passes without a pick.
With all the video-game numbers he’s racked up, the question, of course, is: How the heck do you slow him down?
“He needs to have a bad day,” Tuberville deadpanned. “And he hasn’t had many of those.”
The Red Raiders, obviously, know they have to do much more than hope for an off day from a guy who seems to be gathering more early Heisman Trophy buzz than any player in the country.
They also know it will take a unit-wide effort to slow Smith and his talented stable of playmakers, including wide receivers Tavon Austin (58 receptions, 662 yards, eight touchdowns) and Stedman Bailey (49, 710, 13) and running back Andrew Buie (207 yards rushing vs. Texas last week).
And it all starts up front.
“We have to get pressure,” Tech defensive tackle Delvon Simmons said. “That’s the main thing. If we don’t get pressure, and we let him sit back there and hold the ball, he’s going to find somebody. They have fast, shifty guys, so we just have to get pressure. That’s the key thing.”
The Red Raiders struggled to do so against Oklahoma, as Landry Jones was afforded enough time in the pocket to survey the field and find receivers to the tune of 259 yards and two touchdowns.
Smith has attempted 204 passes this season and has been sacked eight times, but the Red Raiders want to force him out of his rhythm, even if they’re not able to put him on the turf. That means making the most of opportunities to blitz, something Tech was unable to do during the 41-20 loss to Oklahoma last week.
“We’ve got to take him out of his game,” Tech linebacker Terrance Bullit said. “If he sits back there all day, he’s going to tear us apart. But if we do our job — mix it up, show blitz, don’t let him know if we’re coming or not — then we’ll have an advantage.”
Much responsibility Saturday will be placed upon the shoulders of senior cornerbacks Cornelius Douglas and Eugene Neboh. The pair has been solid in helping Tech to a No. 1 national ranking against the pass.
But the combination of a prolific passer in Smith and a pair of all-American caliber receivers in Austin and Bailey will put Texas Tech's corners to the ultimate test. Neboh said he was impressed by how sharply the Mountaineers’ star receivers get into and out of their breaks.
“Their chemistry with their quarterback is really good,” Neboh said. “I’m really impressed with that, and I’m really impressed with Stedman’s route running. We just have to study more film and get a jump on them, hopefully.”
Much like the defensive front — and any additional pass rushers — is aiming to move Smith off his rhythm, Douglas said the cornerbacks must do the same to the Mountaineer receivers.
“Really, we’ve just got to stay tight on them,” Douglas said, “just keep messing with their hands, their wrists. Try to disrupt them.”
But will even all that be enough to slow an offense that has scored at least 69 points in three of its last six games dating back to last season?
“We’re the only ones that can beat us,” West Virginia center Joe Madsen said. “Whether it’s a missed assignment, a missed block, only we can slow ourselves down.”
Members of Tech’s defense showed respect for West Virginia’s offensive prowess this week, but they said they are also looking forward to the opportunity to prove it can be slowed down.
“I honestly think it’s all about us, not Geno,” Bullitt said. “We have to execute our game plan.”
Tech safety D.J. Johnson went a step further, saying the Red Raiders are taking a prove-it-to-me approach against the Mountaineers.
Asked his opinion of Smith, Johnson said: “He's a quarterback. He’s a good quarterback, but I don’t feed too much into it. Different players play different ways against different people.
“This may be the game that somebody else on our defense decides to show up and make plays against Geno Smith and he wasn’t expecting it.”
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