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Pass-Happy Smith Has Wheels to Match

As coaches gush about the way Geno Smith runs West Virginia’s offense, they’re becoming increasingly excited about the way he runs within it.

If you think Smith hitting on 64-of-79 passes the past two games is statistical cheesecake, then factor in his nearly 7 yards per carry during that span, and the production becomes downright gluttonous. He’s not merely completing passes, he’s completely shredding defenses.

Smith’s 28-yard touchdown run after a busted handoff against Marshall showed the quarterback at his galloping best, with a bit of wiggle thrown in downfield to break down Herd safety Okechukwu Okoroha.

It was the brand of ad-libbed athleticism made for highlight packages, but quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital seemed equally pleased with Smith’s 8-yard rollout scramble on WVU’s first drive, or his 12-yard run to the boundary on first-and-15 in the third quarter. Those lesser runs occurred within the context of designed pass reads, with Smith clicking through all his recover progressions before tucking it upfield for positive yardage.

"If you look at a lot of NFL teams — especially with Aaron Rodgers — it’s run 7 yards and slide, and that puts a lot of stress on the defense," Spavital said. "Obviously Geno can do that. We don’t want him acting like he’s a dual-threat quarterback, as much as we joke around about it, but we’re going to at least have defenses acknowledge that our quarterback can run when he’s out of the pocket.

"Once they acknowledge that, it opens up other things downfield."

Against Marshall’s soft-serve defense, it seemed hard to fathom plays being more open downfield. The Herd never generated much of a pass rush, and Smith labeled the secondary coverage as extra cushiony. When West Virginia confronts tougher units — ones that clamp down on the underneath routes, ones with front-seven players capable of reaching the quarterback within "seven-Mississippi" — Smith’s running could be the weapon that extends drives.

In the meantime, during this fortnight between Marshall and James Madison, Spavital said his All-American candidate has room for refinement.

"Right now, when he’s scrambling, he’s got the ball in one hand and it’s everywhere," Spavital said. "You never know if someone could catch up with him and knock that out easily. He needs to take care of the ball better."

West Virginia ran a handful of plays with Smith under center in the opener, a package Dana Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson added this summer based on a suggestion from their defensive counterparts.

"Me and Dana and the offensive staff, we view football though offensive eyes, so we bounce ideas off the defensive coaches to see what gives them trouble," Dawson said. "If they tell us that going under center in certain situations gives the defenses problems, then we’re going to do it."

Smith, who worked exclusively in the pistol and shotgun last season, said going under center remains second-nature to him because that’s he how took snaps in high school and as a freshman and sophomore at WVU.

But the offensive coaches needed a refresher when it came to taking snaps the old-fashioned way.

"None of us knew anything about it," Dawson joked. "In three years at Stephen F. Austin, I probably did it less than 10 times. But my quarterback there couldn’t do it physically. Geno’s different — with his athletic ability and footwork, he can do anything."

Along with allowing Smith to run quarterback sneaks and Shawne Alston to get rolling downhill, the under-center formation benefits play-action.

"When Shawne’s 7 to 8 yards deep, Geno will be showing the ball all the way back." Spavital said. "But when we’re in gun, Geno’s only showing it maybe 2 1/2 yards, so you can’t get too much pull from the defense. The longer you see that ball, the more those linebackers have got to react."

While Dawson figured WVU will move Smith under center no more than five to eight snaps each game, many of those could be crucial short-yardage situations.

"It will never be a deal where we go the whole drive underneath," he said, "unless it’s the end of the game and we’re trying too run the clock out."

Follow on Twitter @AllanTaylorWVU   Email comments to ataylor@wvradio.com

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