Geno Heating Up

Geno Smith vs. Atlanta (Cox/Getty Images)

It's been an up and down opening stretch for Jets rookie QB Geno Smith, but last week he looked like "West Virginia Geno" to a couple of his former teammates now with the Steelers.

PITTSBURGH -- Geno Smith, the New York Jets' rookie quarterback from nearby West Virginia University, had some noteworthy accomplishments in his professional debut.

In an 18-17 win over Tampa Bay, Smith became the first rookie quarterback drafted in the second round or later to pass for at least 250 yards and win on kickoff weekend since the merger in 1970.

Down 14-5 in that game, Smith became the first rookie quarterback to rally from a 9-point deficit or greater since 2005.

Smith completed 24 of 38 passes for 256 yards with an interception and a fumble in his debut.

Some bumps followed, naturally, but Smith played an even better game last Monday night when he completed 16 of 20 for 199 yards and threw 3 touchdown passes without a turnover -- without No. 1 wide receiver Santonio Holmes -- and drove the Jets 54 yards in the final 1:54 to set up a game-winning field goal at the home of the desperate Atlanta Falcons.

"He was damn good Monday night," said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "I think everybody saw that."

"Everybody" includes two of Smith's former WVU teammates now playing for the Steelers: Terence Garvin and Will Johnson.

Both have stirring memories of their former captain and quarterback.

"Me and Geno go way back to our freshman year in college," said Garvin, a safety/linebacker at WVU. "The first time I met him he was actually on crutches. He had hurt himself on a dirt bike."

Garvin met the hobbled Smith on move-in day, 2009. Smith would back up Jarrett Brown that season before becoming the starter in 2010 as a sophomore.

"Geno was always quiet," Garvin recalled. "He always kept to himself, but he was our team captain, our quarterback sophomore through senior year. Geno's resume kind of speaks for itself. I think his breakout game was when we played at Marshall game our sophomore year and he had the little comeback. That was kind of how the whole Geno thing started up."

In Smith's second start for WVU, the Mountaineers trailed 21-6 midway through the fourth quarter at Marshall. Smith drove WVU 96 yards for a touchdown, and then 98 yards for the second touchdown -- a 5-yard pass to his tight end, Johnson -- with 12 seconds left. WVU won in overtime.

"He scrambled, got flushed out of the pocket and found me in the back corner of the end zone," said Johnson, now the Steelers' fullback. "It showed that he was a competitor. I think the team really started to lean on him after that game. I knew he was a competitor but that game really kind of solidified it for me."

Johnson said he watched Smith play Monday night. "That was his most impressive game this year," Johnson said. "He looks like Geno to me." Both Steelers were surprised that Smith fell from the top of the media draft board last winter to the 39th pick overall -- only nine picks ahead of the Steelers' second-round choice of Le'Veon Bell.

"All along I thought he was a first-round talent," Johnson said. "But everything happens for a reason, and here he is now getting his opportunity. I'm pretty happy for him."

Smith's season hasn't been all bouquets, of course. Between wins against the Bucs in the opener and his prime-time rally Monday against the Falcons, Smith turned the ball over 8 times with a passer rating of 63.9 in three games (1-2).

For the season, Smith has completed 60.3 percent of his passes, averaged 8.3 yards per attempt, owns a 7-8 touchdown-interception ratio, has a passer rating of 80.3, and has been sacked 18 times.

For comparison's sake, Ben Roethlisberger this season has completed 63.6 percent of his passes, averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, owns a 5-5 touchdown-interception ratio, has a passer rating of 84.2, and has been sacked 15 times.

Not a bad start for Smith, and he's gotten better.

"He played really well last week," said Garvin. "He seemed confident. He looked like Geno, like West Virginia Geno."

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