How Texas Tech's Defense Could Crush Geno Smith's Heisman Hopes
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is presumably at the top of every Heisman voter's ballot, and deservedly so.
So far he's had a phenomenal season and hasn't had any hiccups. Last week against Texas, Smith threw for 268 yards and four touchdowns in the Mountaineers' 48-45 victory over the Longhorns. He still hasn't thrown an interception.
But we did see Superman's cape get a little wrinkled.
Smith faced enormous pressure all day from the Longhorns' front four and as a result, he lost the ball twice after the pocket collapsed around him; one of those fumbles resulted in a touchdown for the Longhorns. In the end it didn't matter as the Mountaineers won, but it did lay out a blueprint for how Texas Tech could not only beat West Virginia this Saturday, but take Smith out of the Heisman race.
Andrew Luck, the preseason favorite last year for the Heisman, knows how this works.
In early November, Luck looked the clear-cut favorite to win the most prestigious award in college football. His poor performance against Oregon (27-of-41, four touchdowns, two interceptions and one fumble) didn't resonate well with Heisman voters, while Robert Griffin III's performance two weeks later did. Griffin would go on to strike the pose.
Unlike Luck, Smith had his Heisman moment but it may have come too soon in the season. Moreover, while Smith's two fumbles didn't cost his team a victory, those fumbles are still the elephant in the room. We know Smith can have a not-so-perfect game against a stout defense, and West Virginia faces the statistically-best defense in the Big 12 this week; Texas Tech.
Will Geno Smith remain the No. 1 Heisman contender after his game against Texas Tech?
Texas Tech has the best pass defense in the country, yielding an average of 117.4 passing yards per game. The Red Raiders, however, lost 41-20 to Oklahoma and Sooner quarterback Landry Jones went 25-of-40 for 259 yards and two touchdowns.
Texas Tech isn't much of a sack threat; the defense is averaging less than two sacks per game. Their turnover margin isn't scaring anyone as well; they've forced seven turnovers but lost nine for a -2 margin. It would appear the defense isn't very opportunistic.
Why exactly is Texas Tech's defense ranked so high? Maybe it's the quality of opponents they've played: Northwestern State, Texas State, New Mexico and Iowa State were all wins before the Red Raiders got hammered by the resurgent Sooners.
Is their highly-ranked pass defense a result of playing somewhat inferior teams? Probably. That doesn't necessarily mean the Red Raiders can't play defense, but their performance against the Sooners should give some credence to the "overrated" label on their pass defense.
The Red Raiders are also ranked highly in rushing defense (No. 13), giving up an average of 92.6 yards per game. But this statistic is legitimate; they held Oklahoma to 121 rushing yards. This could be important because if West Virginia can't run the ball, Smith will be forced to pass more often. It's a double-edged sword because Smith is so accurate in his throws but it gives Texas Tech the opportunity to put heavy pressure on Smith with its front seven.
The Red Raiders have the blueprint on how to get Smith out of his rhythm. Syracuse drew it up last year in its win over West Virginia. Texas also had that blueprint but couldn't score any points on one of Smith's two fumbles—that would turn out to be a game-changer.
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This is the second consecutive road game for West Virginia. It's also a trap game; the Mountaineers host Kansas State—whose defense is completely legitimate—the following week.
A couple of forced throws into double-coverage, a fumble here or there and Geno Smith's perch could wobble, catapulting Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller to the top. Remember, there are a lot of sportswriters in the Midwest who would love to have "one of their own" in the Heisman race.
It's a lot of ifs, but this is college football.
Three big boys—Georgia, LSU and Florida State—went down last week. Seminoles quarterback E.J. Manuel also saw his Heisman hopes go up in flames against a team that was pegged as a double-digit underdog whose current pass defense is ranked No. 104.
Braxton Miller is creeping up on Geno Smith. Up until last week, it was Geno Smith and no one else, but this week Smith's got a new neighbor in Miller.
Who will be yelling, "Get off my lawn"?
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