- Brett McMurphy, College football reporter
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TAMPA, Fla. -- South Florida junior safety JaQuez Jenkins walked into the trainer’s room Wednesday morning and glanced at one of the televisions. ESPN was comparing West Virginia’s Geno Smith to last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III.
When Smith’s gaudy numbers popped on the screen -- 24 touchdowns and no interceptions -- Jenkins suddenly remembered last season's game with West Virginia.
“I thought, ‘I was the last person to pick him off,'" Jenkins said.
That was back on Dec. 1, 2011. USF and West Virginia were tied at 20 early in the fourth quarter at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium when Smith dropped back to pass. Smith threw a screen toward wide receiver Stedman Bailey, but never saw Jenkins slip underneath. Jenkins returned the interception 24 yards for a touchdown, giving USF a 27-20 lead.
Since that interception, Smith has not thrown an interception in 258 consecutive attempts. Perhaps even crazier is since that play, USF's defense also has not made an interception in 192 consecutive attempts by the opponent.
“Geno Smith is a great player,” Jenkins said. “He’s a heady guy, very smart. He knows where he’s going with the ball. He knows where the defense [is weakest].”
Jenkins’ roommate is USF senior cornerback Kayvon Webster, who also happens to be Bailey’s cousin. This summer, Jenkins said they talked to Bailey about last year’s game, won by West Virginia 30-27.
“He [Bailey] asked me how I knew the pass was coming,” Jenkins said. “I told him, by just watching film. It was one of their tendencies they do when they run the screen.”
On Saturday at Texas Tech, Smith needs 14 attempts to move past Fresno State’s Trent Dilfer into third-place on the all-time FBS list of consecutive attempts without an interception.
The FBS record for most consecutive passes without an interception is 379 by NC State’s Russell Wilson from 2008-09, followed by Kentucky’s Andre Woodson (325) and Dilfer (271).
Jenkins has watched West Virginia play this year and he said Smith looks like the same quarterback as last season.
“He’s so precise,” Jenkins said. “Every throw is perfect where only the receiver can catch it. There are not too many quarterbacks around the nation that can say they threw 24 touchdowns in a season and he’s always done it [in five games] with no interceptions. That’s an amazing stat.”
Just as amazing is that USF (2-4) is the only FBS defense that hasn’t made an interception this season.
“To be honest with you, it’s like we’re playing against Geno Smith every week,” Jenkins said. “Every quarterback we face is hitting us where our soft spot is on defense and reading us good and not putting the ball in jeopardy like Geno and making smart decisions.
“We’re trying not to worry about it. We’re working hard. As long as you work hard, good things will come your way, balls will come our way. Unfortunately they haven’t come yet. Sooner or later, we’ll get the monkey off our back, then we’re rolling.”
Jenkins only has three career interceptions, but they’ve come against some impressive quarterbacks: Smith, Cincinnati’s Zach Collaros in 2011 and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd in 2010.
Jenkins’ interception return for a touchdown against West Virginia was the first of his career. He said he didn’t keep the football after the score, but joked maybe he should have.
“Now that I think about it, I should have,” Jenkins said. “Maybe no one will pick Geno off all season the way he’s going. Maybe I’ll be the last person to pick off Geno in his college career.”