That's the one thing, apparently, that made the performance of the offensive line palatable for Holgorsen. Because Marshall was mixing its rushes and alignments, Holgorsen was able to deflect any criticism of the group off of the players and onto the coaching staff. The coaches simply had not done enough to help the line.
Perhaps, given another quarter of play, all of those issues would have been corrected.
But it still raises red flags. Smith isn't supposed to scrambling for his well-being back there. Ever. Holgorsen said in August that he's never had a starting quarterback injured in his six years as an offensive coordinator and credited much of that record to an offensive scheme that gets the ball out quickly.
"Geno does a good job of getting himself out of some situations and when defenses blitz as much as that there's going to be pressure,'' Holgorsen said. "We've got to do a better job receiver-wise and coaching-wise of getting Geno in situations where he can get the ball out of his hands a little bit quicker.''
That would obviously help the offensive line, too.
On the plus side, of course, was watching Smith evade the constant pressure. Many of his best pass completions were when he was running away from the pocket. He also scrambled twice for first downs, although Holgorsen would prefer that he not run more than absolutely necessary.
"He scrambled twice and both times he did it I thought he made the right decision, obviously,'' Holgorsen said.
Both times Smith elected to run the ball he was almost dared to do it by the Marshall defense. Each time he scrambled out of the pocket and rolled out and both times he tucked and ran only after surveying every receiving option on the field. Each time he found himself in wide open space, although the second time he did have to put a little juke move on a defender at the end of the run and dived around him to get to the first-down marker.
"They were showing a lot of people up [near the line] and blitzing while getting the back end deep. Or they were showing a lot of people up to discourage the run and then getting their linebackers way deep on the second level,'' Holgorsen said. "The decisions for him to take off and run were good based on him getting [8 and 15 yards on his two tries] for first downs. It just depends on what they're doing defensively.''
How long the line can protect, too, is obviously a factor and on Sunday that wasn't very long. Give the group the benefit of the doubt for now, however, and assume that Holgorsen is sincere when he says it is primarily a coaching issue and the right adjustments weren't made.
If that's not the case, everyone will find out soon enough.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.