MORGANTOWN - There was a point last season - much of last season, in fact - when Geno Smith was just getting hammered by opposing defenses.
In the first 11 games of 2011, in fact, he or backup Paul Millard were sacked at least once in every game except - oddly enough - the one against LSU. In a six-game stretch beginning at midseason, opponents averaged more than three sacks per game. Cincinnati and Pitt combined to drop Smith nine times.
A funny thing happened on the way to being permanently battered and bruised, though. Smith stopped getting hit. In the four games since - South Florida and Clemson last season, Marshall and James Madison this - Smith has been sacked just once. Even his instances of getting hit at all have all but disappeared.
The easy answer to why is that West Virginia's offensive line has performed better, which is probably true. But there's another, perhaps more significant, reason.
Teams have just stopped blitzing.
"You're right, we hadn't seen much of that for a while,'' offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said.
Why? Well, go back to those same stat sheets that showed Cincinnati dropping Smith four times and Pitt five. Taken alone they are perhaps impressive. But the fact is that with Cincinnati blitzing, Smith threw for 372 yards and a touchdown and the Mountaineers knocked off the then-No. 18 Bearcats on the road. And Pitt gave up 244 passing yards, saw Smith throw just nine incompletions and the Panthers lost 21-20.
In other words, there's a risk to committing too many defenders to the pass rush against a seasoned quarterback with big-play receivers. And for the most part, the teams the Mountaineers have faced since then have not been willing to take that chance.
James Madison did, though, especially late in the first half and in the second against the Mountaineers last Saturday. And while the results were not what the Dukes had hoped - Smith still hasn't been sacked since the South Florida game last season - they weren't what the Mountaineers hoped, either.
That high-powered offense floundered a bit against the blitz, which should only encourage future opponents to do more of it. West Virginia's reaction? Bring it on.
"When people blitz and take chances, that should get our guys excited,'' Dawson said. "It's a chance for a big play. It has to be a mindset that we have to keep hammering home, that we want them to blitz.''