Smith ready in case Brown isn't for WVU

October, 22, 2009
10/22/09
1:46
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

It looks like Jarrett Brown is recovering well from last week's concussion against Marshall. The West Virginia senior quarterback practiced Tuesday and Wednesday and will be a game-time decision Saturday against Connecticut.

But if Brown can't go this week, or if he has to miss some time in the near future, the Mountaineers now know they can win with his backup, even if he is a true freshman.

Geno Smith was thrust into the game last week after Brown took a shot to the helmet early in the first quarter. West Virginia trailed at halftime, but Smith led the team to a 24-7 win. Despite being just a few months out of high school, Smith said he was never nervous. And he played like it.

"Geno is a very cool kid, calm and collected," offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen said. "He never changes expression or attitude. There's no emotional mood swings one way or the other, ever. So I wasn't shocked when he very calmly and collectively led the football team."

Mullen kept things close to the vest early on for Smith, both because of his inexperience and because of poor field position. In the second half, though, the reins came off. Smith converted a key fourth-and-10 with a 13-yard pass to Jock Sanders after being forced out of the pocket. Later in the game, he completed a 29-yard pass to Wes Lyons and a 33-yard touchdown to Alric Arnett. He finished 15 of 21 for 147 yards.

"I think it was a good learning experience for me," Smith said.

West Virginia's coaches didn't get a chance to work with Smith until August, and he was slowed initially by a broken foot suffered during a June ATV accident. Luckily for the Mountaineers, he is a quick learner and dedicated student of the game.

"When I was recruiting Geno, his mother or one of his teammate’s mothers picked the two up every day," head coach Bill Stewart said. "They did their homework and played football on PlayStation. Then, they ate and went home. Geno has always been a homebody, a gym rat and a film guy."

"I'm always trying to get better, and I've watched a lot of tape of guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady," Smith said. "I'm trying to learn as much as I can."

Mullen said the combination of work ethic, talent and calm demeanor is something every coach looks for on the recruiting trail, but it's hard to find. Most true freshmen will tell you they're just trying to fit in while the older guys lead, and many first-year quarterbacks have a hard time taking control of a huddle full of upperclassmen.

Not Smith.

"I think I have a lot of poise in the huddle," he said. "I can take over the team and take charge. It's something that just comes naturally to me. I think those guys believe in what I can do."

Mullen saw all those qualities early on and tried to give Smith a lot of work in August, knowing his reps would be limited once the season got started. He said Brown was essential in helping the youngster's development by taking him under his wing in the summertime.

West Virginia won't run the entire playbook just yet for Smith, but he knows enough to lead the team if needed.

"I'd much rather have the old, experienced grizzly veteran," Mullen said. "But I absolutely feel confident that Geno Smith can win us a football game."

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