MORGANTOWN - It's not often that Dana Holgorsen feels compelled to run to the defense of his quarterback. And why should he? How often does Geno Smith need defending?
He certainly didn't after West Virginia's first two games of the season.
That's when Smith established himself as one of Heisman Trophy favorites, if not the favorite. He had as many touchdowns (nine) as incompletions, threw for gobs of yards, wasn't sacked, ran the ball like he enjoyed it and conducted WVU's fast-paced offense as if he were Leonard Bernstein.
Then came Maryland. Smith's two sacks were the first since just after Thanksgiving last year. He threw (gasp!) 10 more incompletions (13) than touchdowns and more than in the first two games combined. He lost 16 yards rushing (the sacks were the biggest reason, but he also gained only 8 yards on his four scrambles). And the offense that he mixed up so masterfully before gained just 25 yards on 25 rushes.
What a bum, right? Stop the engraving on all those awards and somebody find Paul Millard a helmet.
Or maybe not.
"You're talking about completing 70 percent of your passes, three touchdowns, zero interceptions. That's a pretty good day, isn't it?'' Holgorsen asked. "I mean, I know we're spoiled around here, but geez, that's still a pretty good day against a quality defense.''
Indeed, as a stand-alone, Smith's performance against Maryland was actually pretty remarkable. He completed 30 of 43 passes for 338 yards. His touchdown-to-interception ratio after a 3-0 day is now 12-0 this season and a staggering 18-0 dating back to January's Orange Bowl. He's also dropped back to pass roughly 180 times over that four-game span (his pass attempts plus his runs, most of which were scrambles) and been sacked only twice.
The fact remains, however, that at least statistically the Maryland game was his worst of those four. OK, so perhaps that's like picking out the ugliest supermodel or the worst quarterbacking Manning from among Archie, Peyton and Eli, but still.
Holgorsen and Smith both, however, will contest that Smith was anything less than superb even at his so-called worst.
"Anybody who can say something like that,'' Smith said, "obviously doesn't know football.''