Ask West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith how long it took him to learn Dana Holgorsen’s playbook and he has a quick response.
“Coach Holgorsen doesn’t have a playbook,” Smith said. “It was a simple, smooth transition.”
“No,” he says. “It’s about playing fast.
How did you learn the plays?
“Watched a lot of film,” he says. “Coach Holgorsen has been doing this for 10 years. He’s broken it down to a science. Every offense and every coach has a different way of doing things, and this is his way of doing things.”
Smith prefers it this way. He didn’t have a playbook in high school, either, and he ran the same offense. The only difference -- in high school he called the plays. Holgorsen will call the plays for West Virginia and coach the team.
That is a big reason why there is optimism around Morgantown. Many believe Smith is poised to become the next Holgorsen star.
Smith certainly has the tools. Last season, he threw for 2,768 yards, 24 touchdowns, seven interceptions and completed 64.8 percent of his passes while playing on an injured foot.
Meanwhile, Holgorsen was coaching Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State. Weeden threw for 4,277 yards and 34 touchdowns and the Cowboys ranked No. 3 in the nation in scoring offense (44.3 ppg).
West Virginia? Well, the Mountaineers ranked No. 78 in the nation in scoring, averaging 25.2 points per game. That is a far cry from the days of Rich Rodriguez, whose last team at West Virginia ranked No. 9 in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 39.6 points a game in 2007.
Interestingly, that offense served as a bit of a learning tool for Holgorsen in Houston.
New coach Kevin Sumlin had arrived in Houston from Oklahoma. Sumlin was on the Sooners staff that lost to the Mountaineers 48-28 in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. After Sumlin brought Holgorsen on staff, he told his assistant, “I’ve got some advice for you. Watch some of the West Virginia stuff and do it faster.”
Holgorsen did that, and his offense flourished. Case Keenum threw for over 5,000 yards in both seasons under Holgorsen in 2008 and 2009.
“Coach Holgorsen is one of the best offensive-minded coaches in the country. I have no doubt about that,” Keenum said. “He’s right at the top of the list. He’s really good at what he does. He knows football, and he’s not afraid to tell you what he knows about it. He’s pretty frank, and he tells it like it is whether you like it or not. That’s who he is, he’s there to be successful on the football field and I know he’s going to be successful.”
Indeed, Holgorsen is not afraid to prod his players in the media. Early in fall camp, he said he was unimpressed with Smith, and that walk-on backup Paul Millard was giving him a serious run. Before camp started, Holgorsen said he knew quelling his player’s excitement for the game would not be a problem. His biggest concern was getting Smith comfortable in the offense.
“He loves to play the game. Does that mean he’s going to be incredibly successful? No,” Holgorsen said. “We have to go through the process of getting him better every week at understanding the offense, what his mechanics are, getting everybody around him better.”
Still, Holgorsen has such impressive credentials as an offensive mastermind, Smith is the only Big East player with early Heisman odds. When asked about the Heisman talk, Smith said, “That’s for somebody else. The only statistic I worried about is getting wins.”
But Smith is confident in himself, and in this offense and believes he can do big things.
“I think I help the offense more than the offense helps me,” he said. “The offense has been proven. I think I just give it a different dynamic because I’m able to do more things. I’m athletic, I can run around a little bit, I can extend plays and make the throws.”
If he can do it all, then he should be in line for a breakthrough season. Just like every other quarterback Holgorsen has coached.