MORGANTOWN-Put all of the preseason hype away, West Virginia senior quarterback Geno Smith is on a mission.
Not to win the Heisman Trophy, or any end-of-the-season award, but to become a better quarterback than the one that threw for a school-record 4,385 yards and put his name into the Orange Bowl's record book with his 407-yard, six-touchdown passing performance in the Mountaineers' 70-33 win over Clemson.
"He (Smith) is on a mission," explained quartersbacks coach Jake Spavital. "Every day he is out there and he is determined to get better. There are little things, like footwork, that you can keep improving on.
"He's a gym rat. The thing that I appreciate the most about him is that we practice yesterday and he had already watched the film three times before I met with him. He already has an awareness of what is going on. That just shows that he is determined."
It may also show that the old gold and blue may have become too dependent upon its three-year starter.
"When the other quarterbacks see Geno in there watching film to get better, then they start thinking that, 'Hey, I need to get in there and start watching film so I can get better.' I've been using that to challenge the younger players."
And everyone on the coaching staff understands that backups Paul Millard and Ford Childress are one play away from becoming the Mountaineers' starting signal-caller.
"Paul (Millard) is to the point where he isn't just communicating the play and handing the ball off," continued Spavital. "He is doing all of that plus he is reading the defense. He is trying to find what is best for the offense.
"He has made a lot of strides."
Enough to take over the reigns of the high octane offensive attack WVU is expected to put onto the artificial surface at Milan Puskar Stadium when instate foe Marshall opens the season on Saturday, Sept. 1?
"I learn from making mistakes and from doing something successful," said Millard. "You don't want to repeat the mistakes, but you want to make sure you do the good things over and over again.
"It is a learning process. Good things, bad things, you learn from them all."
And Mountaineer fans got a chance to see both from the sophomore quarterback during WVU's 10-3 season in 2011. The native of Flower Mound, Texas, saw action in four games -against Norfolk State, Bowling Green, Connecticut and Clemson - as Smith's backup.
His first action came in WVU's 55-12 win over Norfolk State. He completed 5-of-6 attempts for 60 yards and his first collegiate touchdown pass-a 30-yarder to Brad Starks. Millard's next two outings weren't as impressive as he was able to connect on only 1-of-3 passes in victories over Bowling Green and Connecticut. With the Huskies' defense coming up with one of Millard's two interceptions on the season.
The other came in WVU's 37-point win over the Tigers in the Orange Bowl. Millard attempted three passes in limited playing time and failed to complete any of them.
Childress came to Morgantown in January in an attempt to learn as much of the Mountaineer offense as he could prior to his freshman season. The native of Houston, Texas, is coming off a stellar senior season at Houston Kinkaid High School where he completed 184-of-292 passes for 3,171 yards and 41 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.
"We got a lot of good work with the younger quarterbacks," said Spavital. "We still have some questions as far as depth, but we are pretty solid offensively because we have a lot of returning starters.
"We have put the younger guys in a lot of situations with crowd noise and things like that. There were times when they made some decisions that made you wonder what we were doing at quarterback, but they are progressing along."