As West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith stepped to the podium for his press conference after losing to Kansas State 55-14 in front of a sellout crowd at Mountaineer Field, he had the look of a defeated man. His words matched his appearance.
"This is as low as it gets," Smith told reporters.
He better hope so.
Just a few short weeks ago, Smith was atop every Heisman Ballot and shooting up NFL Draft boards faster than any player in the country. He had put up gaudy numbers against Baylor and Texans in successive weeks, and the Mountaineers were ranked No. 5 in the country.
It all came crashing down in Lubbock, Texas, where West Virginia got blown out by Texas Tech. Just a week later, Smith and the Mountaineers returned home to lay another egg against Kansas State.
Smith can't erase what he has put on tape the last two weeks. What's done is done, and what's done wasn't pretty. It is, however, correctable. We cautioned a few weeks ago that the No. 1 overall pick is not decided until April. It's a long season, and Smith can did himself out of this hole.
As impressive as Smith was against Baylor and Texas, displaying ridiculous accuracy, anticipation and pocket awareness, the senior signal caller was equally unimpressive against Texas Tech and Kansas State.
Smith's biggest issue at the moment is holding on to the ball too long. That's been one of his biggest shortcomings throughout his career and it's starting to rear its ugly head again. Smith has mentioned that he has to stop pressing and needs to realize he can't get it all back in one play. He needs to be able to throw the ball away and live to fight another down. It also wouldn't kill him to escape the pocket with his legs and take what he can get. The deep ball won't always be there, and Smith needs to do a better job of adjusting when that happens.
The sacks, turnovers and missed plays have made Smith a less confident passer than he was early in the season. He seems like he doesn't trust what he's seeing, which is causing him to hold onto the ball too long or make bad decisions.
Luckily for Smith and the Mountaineers, they will get a bye week in order to reset and refocus. West Virginia's national title and Big 12 Championship hopes have all but vanished, but Smith's draft status is still an incomplete story. He needs to make sure the final chapters are a step forward. When things break down, Smith needs to show that he can improvise and make plays. He needs to find ways to get yards. West Virginia's offense has too many weapons to be putting up 14 points in consecutive weeks.
Most importantly for Smith, the final five games of his senior season will show his mental resolve. The NFL is not going to be easy, and he will experience stretches like the one he is currently in. But can he pull himself out of it and grow from it, or will he crawl into a hole?
All indications are that Smith is taking responsibility for not only his own struggles, but for those of the entire team. He embraces his role as the leader and is ready to get back on the field and correct the mistakes. He's frustrated, and he should be.
Smith said that this was as low as it gets for him and his teammates. For the next five games, he better make sure that's the case, because rest assured, things can get a whole lot lower for Geno.