It was like Geno Smith was following the Longhorns around last Saturday. He was there on the bus when they were on the way to Stillwater, Okla., and he was there on the plane on the way back to Austin.
By the end of the night, the Longhorns were tired of seeing him, even though it was just his image haunting them on the television.
While the Longhorns were on the way to Boone Pickens Stadium, updates of Smith’s eight-touchdown performance against Baylor kept popping up on the television screens on the bus.
On the flight home, highlights of No. 8 West Virginia’s 70-63 win were playing on the TV headrests on the plane.
“By the time we got home our defense and our defensive coaches had enough,” head coach Mack Brown said. “They’d seen enough touchdown passes and it was scaring them to death.”
The Longhorns are hoping they won’t be seeing such a touchdown frenzy from Smith this Saturday. But with a defense that has been struggling with tackling and giving up big plays, the matchup against the early Heisman favorite will require the defense to play at a much higher level than in previous weeks.
Sitting at seventh in total defense in the Big 12, the Longhorns are not where they thought they would be at this point in the season. And when the Mountaineers arrive in Austin it will be time for them to live up to the expectations put upon them in the preseason.
In all four of West Virginia’s games so far, Smith has passed for over 300 yards. West Virginia’s offense is No. 1 in passing offense, No. 3 in total offense and No. 1 in passing efficiency in the country. It’s safe to say these guys “get it” when it comes to putting points on the board. In the game against Baylor, Smith was so precise in passing the ball he had two more touchdown passes than incomplete passes.
At this point the mediocre numbers the Texas defense has been putting up, or in this case giving up, won’t keep the Longhorns in the game Saturday. All season defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has been stressing the need to prevent explosive plays.
“Everybody has said that before they go play them,” Diaz said. “Their quarterback is so accurate throwing the ball deep and they’ve got guys that can go get it. They do a nice job of protecting him to give him time for those routes to develop.”
Though Smith is getting all the hype for his impressive passing performances, the guys catching the ball will be just as much of a challenge for the Longhorns. Wide receivers Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and J.D. Woods will be working to find holes in the Longhorns’ secondary. Bailey is coming off a game in which he compiled 303 receiving yards and five touchdown catches. Yes, five touchdowns.
Texas’ secondary will be tested more on Saturday than they have been all season.
“Those guys have great speed,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “They know the offense very well so we just have to go out there and execute and play better than we did last year against Baylor and get the job done.”
Diaz said his players must accept that Smith will find a rhythm, but emphasized interrupting that rhythm, especially in the red zone. Red zone defense was a strong point in the Longhorns’ defensive plan against OSU.
Three of the five times the Cowboys drove down the field to the red zone last week, they were held to just a field goal. Smith has been throwing an average of five touchdown passes per game and the Mountaineers are tied for ninth in the country in red zone offense, so getting this offense to settle for field goals will be a tall order.
Diaz stressed the importance of making the offense earn everything they do. Giving up big plays does not figure to be a part of his strategy as the season continues.
“You can be playing well and they can still execute,” Diaz said. “What do you have to limit? The explosive plays and the run after catch. It’s going to be a game where you have to accept that they’re going to get yards, you have to play great defense in the red zone and then you have to find some way to maybe try to get your own explosive plays.”
Last December, the Longhorns faced future Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. Before that game, Brown told the Longhorns to not hand him the trophy. But they ended up doing just that. Griffin ultimately threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns in Baylor’s 48-24 win over Texas.
“I don’t think we’re in a position right now to be trying to stop Geno Smith,” Brown said. “We need to play better defense because he’s going to make his plays like Robert last year. This guy’s going to make his plays.”
Printed on Friday, October 5, 2012 as: All eyes on Geno - Texas tasked with containing nation's top quarterback