DALLAS — Geno Smith sat in a chair, surrounded by many of the folks who have declared him the Big 12 Conference's top offensive player, offered strong criticism of his mechanics and downplayed the performance that elevated his national profile.
“You guys, media, who evaluates this stuff didn't take it apart, but I'm on it,” Smith said of his own shortcomings, most notably, his downfield throws.
Discussing last year's Orange Bowl, when he threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns in a 70-33 rout of Clemson, Smith called it “overblown,” pointing to West Virginia's disappointing offensive outing against South Florida in the regular-season finale.
“People like to talk about the 70 points in the Orange Bowl, but in the game before that, we scored 10 points against South Florida,” Smith said.
His memory is a bit fuzzy — the Mountaineers beat USF 30-27 — but his point is still taken. West Virginia's offense accounted for 16 points — nine of them on field goals — and Smith threw no touchdowns and two interceptions in the win.
“I'm my biggest critic, and I'm not going to let those things go by,” Smith said.
So he went to see quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. for help with his deep ball.
Name sound familiar?
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones also spent a little time working with Whitfield this offseason.
“A lot of times when throwing the deep ball, you've got to put it to a spot,” Smith said when describing what he learned from Whitfield.
“It's not a high-percentage throw in the first place, so you have to make sure you put it in a spot where only your guy can get it, and at times I was trying to make the perfect throw instead of just giving my guys a chance to make a play.”
The two Whitfield pupils lead programs widely viewed as the best in the Big 12. Smith narrowly topped Jones in voting for the conference's preseason Offensive Player of the Year award, and the Sooners were the pick in the conference preseason poll over second-place West Virginia, entering its inaugural Big 12 season.
The Sooners visit the Mountaineers on Nov. 17 in what is perhaps 2012's most anticipated Big 12 Conference game.
“In every season, you always have that one game that everyone circles, either in their mind, or their apartment, or somewhere,” said West Virginia defensive end Will Clark.
“A game like that, you're always gonna think about it, but you have to train yourself to think about Marshall, (James Madison), Maryland and then get into the other games.”
Smith is entering his second year in coach Dana Holgorsen's unique offense. Year One was strong: Smith completed 65 percent of his passes, threw for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns and was intercepted just seven times.
Still, Smith wondered aloud at what might have been if his deep passes were more accurate.
“Had I completed more of those, I might have had about 6,000 yards,” Smith said. “I left about 2,000 yards on the field for the fact that I wasn't very accurate on my deep ball.”
Quarterbacks like Graham Harrell (Texas Tech), Case Keenum (Houston) and Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State) have run Holgorsen's system when he was their offensive coordinator, and each year they got better.
“He's progressed and he's got a chance to be pretty good,” Holgorsen said. “He stacks up with a lot of the other guys I've had in the past.”
The coach said he thinks Smith's lessons from Whitfield were more about exposure than anything else.
“I think we coach him pretty good, and I think we develop them pretty good,” Holgorsen said. “I think our track record speaks for itself.
“But from an exposure standpoint, I think it's good for him.
“But he's going to be judged by how many games he wins. Not how quick his feet are this year, how accurate his balls are or how many times he keeps the plays alive.”