Each week, we rewind the game film to highlight the star-worthy performances that could impact the 2013 draft rankings:
Considering the remarkable season enjoyed by Robert Griffin III for Baylor a year ago, it is perhaps appropriate that it was against his beloved Bears that West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith emerged as the favorite to succeed RGIII as the winner of the 2013 Heisman Trophy.
Smith's numbers in a thrilling 70-63 victory that served as WVU's Big 12 debut read like something out of a video game. The 6-4, 220 pound senior quarterback completed 45 of 51 passes for 656 yards and a sparkling eight touchdowns against zero interceptions. Heisman voters will be impressed -- whether they watched the game, the highlights or simply read about Smith's sparkling performance the next day.
And as crazy as it sounds, when NFL scouts break down his performance against Baylor, they'll find that Smith was actually, at times, even better than his stat-line would indicate. They'll see that his 88.2% completion rate was hardly just a function of West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen's explosive offense or even terrible coverage by Baylor's defense. They'll see that while Smith certainly was well protected in this contest and woeful tackling allowed WVU's receivers to rack up gaudy yardage after the catch, that the Mountaineer quarterback simply picked apart the Baylor defense with his eyes pre and post-snap and by demonstrating outstanding accuracy on a number of NFL-caliber throws.
Smith completed seven of nine attempts that traveled at least 15 yards and was especially deadly on deep balls down the hash and sideline. Smith's ability to hit his receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin in full stride played a critical role in their consistently generating yardage after the catch. He accomplished this on a variety of throws including a hot-read quick out to defeat an unexpected blitz, a deep out versus Cover Two in which he kept the safety honest with his quick progression and a number of picture perfect deep balls.
As it turns out, perhaps his most difficult pass of the day may have actually been his shortest completion. Smith showed beautiful touch to lob the ball over a Missouri defender and into the waiting hands of Bailey just as the 5-10, 195 Percy Harvin-clone ran out of the back of the endzone. The pass was officially recognized as just a two-yard touchdown. The "drop in the bucket" type touch it required to be completed to such a short receiver from that distance, however, is a rare talent.
Like Griffin a year ago, Smith is often typecast as a running quarterback because of the fact that he's very athletic. The trait that led Griffin a season ago to eventually challenging Andrew Luck as the top quarterback prospect in the country, however, wasn't his electric running ability but his downfield accuracy. Griffin completed an extraordinary 72.39% of his passes last season despite averaging 14.75 yards per attempt -- the most of any FBS quarterback. Smith's yards per attempt (12.26) this year is slightly lower but he is completing them with much greater regularity (82.3%) and, of course, most importantly, he simply doesn't turn the ball over. Counting his performance against Baylor, Smith has now thrown 20 touchdowns and zero interceptions this season.
It remains to be seen if Smith can play better as the pressure rises -- as Griffin did so well a year ago. Should Smith continue to play this well, however, he won't have to wait as long as Griffin to emerge as the clear-cut Heisman Trophy favorite and he won't just challenge Matt Barkley to be the first quarterback selected in the 2013 draft.
If Smith is capable of playing at this level against the top teams in the Big 12 - starting with Texas October 6 -- he could run away with both titles.
* While Smith's brilliance left scouts gasping Saturday, the poor play from Arkansas' Tyler Wilson could leave them grumbling. It has already been a season to forget for the Razorbacks and with a 58-10 thrashing at the hands of SEC-newcomer Texas A&M the latest setback, things may only be getting worse. In his second game back since succumbing to a head injury against Louisiana-Monroe, Wilson completed just 29 of 59 passes against the Aggies for 373 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Wilson's touchdown was a simply dump-off a few yards behind the line of scrimmage to running back Knile Davis. A couple of subtle cuts by Davis and shoddy open field tackling by A&M allowed him to race nearly 70 yards (64 net) for a first-quarter score. Other than directing the Razorbacks to a field goal on their next drive, Arkansas was shut-out the rest of the way, however, as the Aggies scored 44 unanswered to finish the game. The first of Wilson's two interceptions came when he failed to account for free safety Steven Terrell jumping a curl route from freshman MeKale McKay. The second was an even worse decision as he attempted to squeeze a deep fade between the A&M secondary playing Cover-2. The ball wasn't thrown with enough velocity and was easily picked off again by Terrell. This time Wilson's intended target was his star senior Cobi Hamilton. Wilson entered the 2012 campaign as a virtual lock for the first round. Having completed a career-low 54.5% of his passes thus far (and just nine touchdowns against five interceptions), he'll need to dramatically improve his play to keep this grade.
* Only the fact that the Oregon State Beavers were expected to be one of the bottom-feeders in the Pac-12 conference this season has allowed their early success to go relatively unnoticed throughout the country. The team walked into Arizona Stadium ranked No. 18 in the country after upsetting Wisconsin and UCLA to begin their season but still were pegged as an underdog against Rich Rodriguez's Wildcats. The emergence of junior quarterback Sean Mannion has been a big reason for the Beavers' early success but so too has been a plucky defense, led by Jordan Poyer, currently NFLDraftScout.com's No. 5 rated senior cornerback for the 2013 draft. While the 5-11, 190 pound Poyer hasn't generated the buzz of other ball-hawking defensive backs throughout the country, it was clear that the Arizona coaching staff respected him. Despite attempting 53 passes Saturday night, Wildcats' quarterback Matt Scott rarely challenged Poyer, who typically lines up outside but was moved inside to cover slot receivers as Arizona often went to three and four wide formations. Poyer's long arms, strong hands and quick feet allow him to effectively jam receivers at the line, consistently disrupting the timing of opponents' passing game. He understands route concepts and shows an excellent burst to close, as he did to step in front of a Scott pass midway through the third quarter with the Wildcats driving into position to build upon a 21-17 lead. Poyer, playing nickel, tipped the quick out, forcing Arizona slot receiver Richard Morrison to juggle the ball. The ball bounced into the air and over Morrison's head. Poyer dove to the sideline in front of the OSU bench, corralling the pass for a momentum-changing interception. Poyer is hardly just the playmaker against the pass that his seven career interceptions (including two he's returned for scores) might indicate. He's also a technically sound run defender, who fights to keep his containment responsibilities and is a physical tackler who uses his hands well to claw at the football.
* Throughout much of the Mike Gundy era at Oklahoma State it has been either passers or pass-catchers who have earned most of the hype. With Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon now in the NFL, however, Gundy has largely turned to junior running back Joseph Randle and the move proved almost enough for his Cowboys to upset the No. 12 Longhorns Saturday night. Randle gashed a talented Longhorns' defense for 199 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. His burst and lateral agility make him a dangerous big play threat conducive to running between Oklahoma State's wide splits. As his rocked up build would indicate, Randle is also a physical runner. He broke several tackles Saturday night, providing a physical presence to a Cowboys' offense that has been criticized by some for its finesse style. The 6-0, 200 pound Randle is rarely mentioned in the same breath as South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and Wisconsin's Montee Ball but perhaps he should be. Considering his suddenness makes him much more of a big play candidate than these two powerful (but relatively methodical) backs, it wouldn't be surprising to see Randle wind up with an equal or even higher pro grade than either.