West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has lauded James Madison quarterback Justin Thorpe’s ability to not only pass, but run.
Holgorsen’s own quarterback, Heisman hopeful Geno Smith, has also shown the ability to run, at least after one game.
Smith, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior from Miramar, Fla. native, ran for 65 yards on eight carries, including a 28-yard touchdown run on a broken play, in WVU’s 69-34 win over Marshall.
Smith’s ability to run isn’t really a surprise. He did run for 217 yards in 2010.
Last year he did rush for two touchdowns, but his overall totals showed minus-33 yards, mostly because of sacks.
Holgorsen has been pretty adamant about not running Smith a lot, in order to avoid unnecessary hits. But, he does acknowledge there is an obvious advantage.
“It makes people think twice about rushing people up field hard,” Holgorsen said. “It makes people think twice about dropping guys really, really deep in pass protection. Because if they’re really deep in pass protection they better have someone spying him, because he does have really great legs.
It’s not exactly foreign to the Holgorsen concept, though his quarterbacks don’t normally have a lot of rushing statistics. Holgorsen said he has never had a team spy, or have a player whose assignment is follow the quarterback, in the past.
Smith is a different breed, though.
“That would be a first for me,” Holgorsen said of a defense spying his quarterback in his pass-heavy offensive scheme. “Obviously I have never had a guy have the offensive ability that Geno has. He has improved his size and speed. He said after the (Marshall) game that the game has slowed down for him, and he is making better decisions. These things are the sign of his maturity as a quarterback and where he is as a quarterback.”
Also, it adds another element the opposing defensive coordinator has to be concerned about when facing Holgorsen’s offense.
“We’ve talked a lot about not wanting to run him a ton,” Holgorsen said. “You can tell that’s a sign of maturity. Last year, he would stay in the pocket, or he would run to throw, or he just would be slow in making that decision to get up field.
“Those decisions (now) were all good and he is smart about it once he does. He doesn’t run down field and take a bunch of shots and all that. He gets out of bounds or gets us the first down. It’s going to pose a problem for some people.”
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Holgorsen said offensively, James Madison reminded him of the old Big East Conference.
“They do use a tight end 90 percent of the time,” Holgorsen said. “What it reminds me of is what the Big East is or was doing. It is the old Northeastern football. It is what old Big East teams were. It is what West Virginia was before I got here, what Pitt was a couple years ago, what Syracuse and Connecticut did last year.
“I do think the offenses in the Big East are changing. What the Big East used to be is what the Colonial Athletic Association (JMU’s conference) is now. They will get the ball off to tight ends, they will try to establish the run and they will control the clock. It is all about playing with effort. I think JMU defended around 62 plays per game last year – that is what West Virginia was defending before I got here. The landscape of college football is changing slightly, but I don’t think it has gotten to them yet.”
Holgorsen didn’t put all the blame on WVU’s secondary after Marshall threw for 413 yards.
“It starts with pressure,” Holgorsen said. “We didn’t do a very good job of getting pressure, whether that is individual guys winning or through blitzes. If we let the quarterback just sit back there, he is going to find guys. (Rakeem) Cato did a good job of finding his open guys. Defensively, we have to match routes and makes plays on balls in the air.”
JMU quarterback Thorpe is 29 of 45 passing for 317 yards and three TDs in two games, so he doesn’t pose the problems Cato did.
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“ Running backs take a beating,” Holgorsen said. “Last year, we had five running backs and we got down to where we are now. That is a position that is tough, physically. It is very demanding. I am really happy with both guys that we have back there. Ryan is probably the next guy right now.”
Clarke hasn’t had a carry since the Rutgers game in 2010, when, as a goal-line running back, he had seven carries for 11 yards and scored three touchdowns.
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West Virginia is the designated home team Saturday, though it won’t really have that feel at FedEx Field, home of the NFL’s Washington Redskins.
We will treat it like a road game,” Holgorsen said. “We will travel like a road game, and our hotel routine will be like a road game. We will treat the whole thing like a road game.”
He did say the players like to play at NFL stadiums.
I wouldn’t want my home stadium to be a pro stadium,” Holgorsen said. “We did it twice last year, but it seemed like our guys got juiced up for that. Next year, we will play in the Ravens stadium. Family and friends get excited for that, too. Recruits and players do, too.”
There is potential for the gray uniforms to make an appearance.
Maybe, I don’t make that decision,” Holgorsen said. “The captains make that decision. You can wear grey on the road or at home.”
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Holgorsen reiterated that he believes JMU’s Dae’Quan Scott will play Saturday.
“He is a good player,” Holgorsen said. “That would be like us being without one of our top guys. There is nothing we can do to worry about that. We don’t worry about injuries too much. We want to line up and play. He is a great player on tape. We are going to anticipate him playing. If he is questionable, we are going to anticipate him playing.”
Scott has rushed for 180 yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns and has eight receptions for 90 yards and two touchdowns.