God Speed, Keith Smith (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Well, we've had since Saturday afternoon to digest the news, and with the offense mired in 2001 levels of suck it doesn't feel like as big of a deal. Still, official word came today. Keith Smith, the Big Ten's most prolific receiver and possibly the best in the country, is done for the season. GBI released the news this afternoon that Keith Smith was done for the year with a torn ACL and MCL.
This isn't a surprise. We have suspected this since Saturday, so we have had time to go through the grieving process. From a numbers game it looks daunting. We're now going into the Big Ten season missing both Ralph Bolden and Smith. That's 2,342 yards of total offense and 17 touchdowns from last season that we were expecting back. While there is a small chance Bolden will return, I don't think we can reasonably hope for much from him.
This is not a crisis, but an opportunity!
So we can go two ways from this: We can whine about it and use it as an excuse or we can sack up and get better. Smith's ability on the field will be missed, but the loss of his leadership may be a bigger blow. The fifth year senior was gregarious and outgoing. He was chosen among all student athletes present to speak at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon. He also posted the senior video of the seniors riding the Special away from camp on the last day.
We now need a new leader on offense, and I think that means it is time for Robert Marve to step up. Robert, you went to The U. You know what it means to have confidence and swagger (and hopefully not throwing four picks and single-handedly losing your biggest game in years in the process). This team needs you to take command. He has had some recent comments that have hinted at his leadership, but we need it more than ever on the field.
Unfortunately, we can only guess as to what Smith's absence will mean in terms of leadership. In terms of talent, the loss may not be as bad as we think. J Money and Boilerdowd predicted a 1,500 yard season for Smith. I predicted a dropoff from last year most because we have more receivers to spread the ball around to. Now, more than ever, that will be the case.
We don't have a guy with Smith's strength. I have often thought of him as a smaller version of Dustin Keller because of his tendency to break tackles. We won't replace Smith with one player, but if several players band together the hurt can be eased a little bit. Already Cortez Smith and Justin Siller will likely see more passes as starting receivers. I wouldn't be surprised to see the sure-handed and speedy O.J. Ross become the starter in the slot with Smith and Siller remaining outside. Antavian Edison and Gary Bush will also see time in the rotation.
Coach Hope hinted today that Gabe Holmes, a tight end, may get worked into the offense more. Tommie Thomas, Waynelle Gravesande, and Xavier Reese could also see a little bit of time and get a catch or two per game. Keith Carlos could conceivably return at receiver if he gets healthy. The options are clearly there.
Still, Keith was a first down machine. He was THE go to guy when we needed to move the chains, and now he is gone. Who will Marve rely on now? Some have suggested that Kyle Adams and Jeff Lindsay could see an expanded role at tight end. They have been mostly an afterthought in the offense, but have still had some key catches.
One small positive out of this is that it prepares the offense more for next season. Both Smiths, Lindsay, and Adams are the only players not coming back after this year. The experienced gained then should reap huge benefits if we can ever settle the offensive line situation. This isn't the way I wanted to do it, but we might as well do it because we have no choice.
We can't give up though. The schedule is still certainly favorable to win six games and reach a bowl, which is an improvement over the past two seasons. I now think anything more than seven wins would be a wonderful stretch, but Ball State, Toledo, Minnesota, and Indiana at home should still be wins. Northwestern and Illinois on the road are not impossible, either. There is still plenty to believe in, and it's not like we were lighting the world on fire with him, anyway.