But he’d give every one of them back to change the outcome of his team’s 47-21 loss to LSU, a loss that — just like last season’s 20-14 defeat — was decided by turnovers and special teams.
Informed that his final statistical line (38-of-65 for 463 yards) was indeed historic, Smith was less than impressed.
“Had I done better,” he snapped, referring to his fumble and two interceptions, “maybe we might’ve had a chance to win the game late. Believe me, I would much rather pass for zero yards and win the game.”
Granted, not every one of WVU’s four turnovers was Smith’s fault. Tavon Austin, WVU’s mercurial receiver, who finished with 11 catches for 187 yards despite a broken finger, had Smith’s on-target pass bounce directly off his helmet into the waiting arms of Tigers safety Brandon Taylor, but the whole complexion of the game may have turned with under a minute to play in the first half on his own 17, when his flat pass intended for Austin was tipped, intercepted, and returned by cornerback Tyrann Mathieu to the 1-yard line. Seconds later, LSU was up 27-7, and WVU never completely recovered.
“He just made a great play,” Smith said. “I tried to get the ball to Tavon, but you have to give the guy credit. Still, we knew that we had the whole second half to come back, and we knew we could move the ball against them.”
Smith also targeted receiver Steadman Bailey, who finished with eight catches for 115 yards, while breaking his own record for completions by one, set last week at Maryland. His 65 throws shattered Brad Lewis’ previous mark of 52 from 2001, and those 463 yards supplant Marc Bulger’s 429 yard total against Missouri in 1998 from WVU’s top spot.
But it’s not what Smith is interested in, those gaudy numbers.
Not at all.
“There are no moral victories. None,” he stated, his disappointment clear. “We learned a lot about ourselves tonight. We’re gonna fight no matter what, and we can absolutely play with anybody. We moved the ball against the best defense we’ll face this year, probably. But we killed ourselves with turnovers. Just killed ourselves. If we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we should put up numbers like this every week.”
So what’s left for Smith and his Mountaineers as they face Bowling Green next week, then begin their Big East Conference schedule?
“It’s back to work,” he said, “We have to keep working to get these turnovers and mistakes corrected. It’s as simple as that.”
Still, this loss will stick with WVU for a while, and Austin, described by LSU coach Les Miles as “a real special player,” was succinct in his assessment of WVU’s disappointing loss.
“We had them where we wanted them, and we let them get away.”