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Bailey, Smith stay on same page

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - West Virginia receivers coach Shannon Dawson understands.

Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith understands.

WVU receiver Stedman Bailey understands.

When it comes to bowl games, timing is everything.

Look at your Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III.

Yes, the Baylor star went out a winner with his team's thrilling 67-56 win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl. But RG3 got off to a rough start. He threw for just one touchdown and ran for just one more. He was rusty after the break between the regular season and the bowl. The Bears' rushing game proved key.

"If you watch bowls, there's a reason why offenses tend to be a little sluggish," Dawson said Monday as his team prepares for Wednesday's Orange Bowl against Clemson.

"It's hard when you have a month layoff. Practice is one thing, but the speed of the game ... And the teams playing in bowl games tend to be pretty good."

The good news for WVU fans is their quarterback has been working with at least one of his receivers even outside of team practice to keep sharp. When Smith and Bailey went home, which is here in south Florida, for the Christmas break, they got together at a little recreation center with "a nice little turf field," according to Bailey, at 199th Street in Miami.

"All we do is pretty much run routes and try to make sure our timing is down," Bailey said. "This whole weekend - even before we got with our team - we worked on it. Me and Geno went to one of our local parks in the neighborhood and tried to get some routes and timing down."

"We were out there getting some good workouts," Smith added.

We'll see on Wednesday night if the neighborhood workouts for the former Miramar High teammates pay off.

"Offenses execute better if you have the same routine," Dawson said. "That's why during the season, you get better, better, better. Sometimes in bowl games it takes a quarter to get your legs and timing back. It's hard to lay off.

"You might think, well, you should go 'live' more. Well, by the end of the year, you're lucky to be healthy. We choose to get our kids healthy for the game and try to overcome the speed of the game at first.

"Defenses are a little different. With defenses, it's all about distraction. Offenses are about execution and 11 guys doing their jobs. Hopefully, we'll have that."

It would behoove WVU, however, to get off to a solid offensive start against an athletic Clemson defense. The Mountaineer defense isn't one of the nation's greatest and Clemson's offense could have an early edge.

The timing between Smith and his receivers could be crucial, especially in the first quarter.

"We've been good," Smith said. "We had some good practices in Morgantown and we made sure it carried over to here. We made sure we got some good work in. We're not taking any days off. We're working extremely hard, especially on timing because we know it's extremely important."

The bright spot for WVU is Smith and receivers Bailey and McCartney have been working on their timing since high school. Familiarity might breed contempt, but it also might help the Mountaineers against Clemson.

"It's got to help," Dawson said. "But you also have those five linemen and the other guys that have a lot to do with it too. Can't always drop back and throw to Stedman."

Point taken. But it's something to keep an eye on.

"We started playing football together in the 11th grade," Bailey of  his relationship with Smith. "Thinking back to when we met in the eighth grade, we probably tossed the football around, not knowing we'd be playing together. The 11th grade, though, is when we got serious."

This season, Smith hooked up with Bailey for 1,197 serious yards, an average of 99.8 per game, and McCartney for 572, a 47.7 average.

"It does help," said the Mountaineer quarterback. "I've been throwing to Stedman and Ivan [McCartney] for so many years - even Tavon [Austin] for four years. It helps the timing that we're so familiar with each other."

How close is Smith and Bailey?

"He's like my brother," Smith said. "His mother is my mother. My mother is his mother. We spend a lot of time together. He's my roommate. Someone I've been hanging with since middle school."

That's familiarity. Which should help Wednesday. Of course, there are other concerns.

"The back end [of Clemson's defense] looks pretty good," Bailey said. "Their defense as a whole looks pretty good and it starts up front. Their D-line is pretty athletic and does a good job getting pressure on the quarterback. Their DBs look pretty good, but I think we can beat 'em in certain situations. We have the game plan in. We just have to go out and execute."

He suggested rusty timing shouldn't be a problem.

"Not really," Bailey said. "This game is so important to us. We're home ... Hopefully, we won't run into the problem of timing. We've been working all week and doing a good of getting that stuff down. Hopefully we'll be OK in that area."

With a little help from the 199th Street rec center.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

 


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