MORGANTOWN There wasn't a lot of looking around with blank stares when starting quarterback Jarrett Brown went down with an injury on West Virginia's opening drive against Marshall on Saturday.
True freshman Geno Smith grabbed a helmet, a throwing partner, and started warming up.
''I was just thinking, 'just get ready to play,' '' Smith said.
He wasn't alone.
''We know when we don't have the starter in there, we really have to take over the game,'' WVU defensive lineman Chris Neild said.
The hit occurred on the Mountaineers' fourth play from scrimmage, when Brown took off on a 13-yard run for a first down at the Marshall 36. Brown was smacked between two Thundering Herd defenders backup cornerback Ahmed Shakoor and strong safety Ashton Hall, who forced a fumble. Marshall Bembry recovered it at that spot.
Marshall held the ball for the next 8:14 because the Mountaineers were whistled for a facemask on a Thundering Herd punt at the line of scrimmage. That kept alive what turned out to be a 16-play, 64-yard drive that resulted in a 12-yard Brian Anderson touchdown run, and it gave Smith plenty of time to think about what lied ahead.
Perhaps that's why he struggled early on, as he averaged barely 2 yards per attempt in nine first-half passes.
Then, after a chat with offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen at halftime, Geno grew up in a hurry.
''He said, 'we were gonna try to throw the ball a little bit more down field because they were sending more blitzers,' '' Smith said. ''Because I'm a freshman, he just told me to stay comfortable.''
With the ball on the Marshall 27 and the Mountaineers facing 4th down and 10 on their first drive of the second half, Stewart elected to go for it rather than have Tyler Bitancurt, another true freshman, try a 44-yard field goal.
The move paid off in a big way, as Smith saved his balance after a shoestring tackle attempt and completed a 13-yard pass to Jock Sanders for the first down. Noel Devine scored on a 14-yard touchdown run one play later that gave WVU its first lead at 10-7.
''There wasn't a bigger play than that 4th-and-10, and kudos to (WVU head coach) Bill Stewart for going for it right there,'' Mullen said.
As it turns out, Sanders was Smith's third option on that particular play.
''We've got kind of bread and butter plays, plays that have options, plays that routes kind of move a little bit,'' Mullen said. ''So when you're not real sure what you're getting on defense, which is what (Saturday night) was Coach (Rick) Minter (Marshall's defensive coordinator) did a great job of mixing fronts and coverages - you have a couple bread and butter plays I think are good in anything, and that was one of those plays.''
Later, Smith showed his bigger-than-his age talent again, this time on a 33-yard touchdown pass to Alric Arnett.
''That was a great play,'' Smith said. ''Arnett beat the guy off the line in man coverage and was able to get on top of him, and I just put it out there for him. He has the God-given talent to go get it. We practice it. It was good timing.
''The whole game I just tried to execute to the best of my abilities.''
Marshall coach Mark Snyder couldn't believe what he'd just seen.
''That great catch by Arnett geez, that was a great throw and catch,'' he said. ''That was great coverage. It was just a really good throw.''
Everyone came away impressed with the youngster, with neither Mullen nor Stewart saying they did anything to ''dumb down'' the offense for the rookie.
''I was extremely pleased with our aggressive playcalling on offense, particularly in the second half,'' Stewart said. ''I told them throw it deep, get in the flats, hit the over routes, make them defend the turf. It will work. Just keep calling what you're calling. I liked it, I really did.
''You have to stay aggressive. These guys practice; they'll be OK.
''You cannot play on egg shells in major college football, and be intimidated by your own lack of aggression.''
Brown, whose status was unknown after the game, completed 1 of 2 passes for 19 yards. Smith was 15 of 21 for 147 yards, including the touchdown.
''I felt Geno, for the most part, did an outstanding job,'' Mullen said.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at Elliott@theintelligencer.net.