Geno Smith and West Virginia roll into Texas
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AUSTIN, Texas — The last time Texas faced a leading Heisman Trophy contender, coach Mack Brown told his defense, ‘‘Don’t let him win it against you.’’
How’d that work out? Baylor’s Robert Griffin III passed for two touchdowns, ran for two more, and one week later accepted the trophy in New York.
‘‘They handed it to him at halftime,’’ Brown said.
Ten months later, here comes West Virginia’s Geno Smith, the nation’s top-rated passer and the guy everyone is comparing to Griffin after his eight TD passes and 656 yards against Baylor last week. The No. 8 Mountaineers (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) and No. 11 Longhorns (4-0, 1-0) play Saturday night.
For West Virginia, a road win in front of about 100,000 Texas fans and a national television audience would not only solidify Smith as the Heisman favorite, it would also send a statement that the Mountaineers have every intention of winning the Big 12 their first year in the league.
‘‘The crowd’s going to be rocking,’’ Smith said. ‘‘We still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do.’’
It will be the first trip to Texas for most of the Mountaineers players, but not for coach Dana Holgorsen, who was an assistant at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State before going to Morgantown. He’s talked to his team about what to expect: the crowd, the girls, and Texas’s famous Bevo steer mascot.
‘‘I’m looking forward to it,’’ Holgorsen said.
So call it the perfect stage for another national statement by Smith, who has been picking apart defenses with a staggering 83 percent completion rate, 20 touchdowns, and no interceptions.
The challenge for Texas isn’t how to stop the West Virginia offense — ‘‘You’re not going to stop them,’’ Brown said — but how to make the plays that keep the Mountaineers out of the end zone and make the difference at the end.
Force a punt. Recover a fumble. Make an interception.
‘‘This isn’t going to be a shutdown game,’’ Brown said. ‘‘The guy just scored 70 points. I mean, unbelievable.’’
Brown has to ask a lot from a defense playing well below preseason expectations. The Longhorns gave up 576 yards to Oklahoma State and have a bad habit of surrendering long touchdowns.
Despite the lapses, Texas still has playmakers galore on defense, starting with ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor, who have combined for seven sacks.
It will be their job to disrupt Smith and force him to throw quickly or on the run. Texas believes Smith’s internal clock may be a bit slow after not facing much pressure in the first four games, especially last week against Baylor.
Texas is also counting on its offense to slow down Smith by keeping him off the field. Unlike Baylor, which tried to match Smith pass for pass in last week’s 70-63 shootout, the Longhorns are built around a ball-control running game and play-action passes. If Texas can grab a second-half lead, the Longhorns will try to kill the clock behind battering ram tailback Joe Bergeron.