FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - A hint of a smile crossed Geno Smith's face Wednesday as he listened to the question about Bills coach Doug Marrone's success against him in college.
It's not a particularly cheerful topic for Smith, considering Marrone had his number when he was coaching Syracuse and Smith was West Virginia's quarterback. But Smith was a good sport about it, facing up to the unfortunate slice of history. Marrone and Smith faced each other three times from 2010-12, with Marrone winning them all and Smith struggling in each game.
Smith was mostly dominant against almost every team but Syracuse. But facing Marrone's team, he was mostly a mess.
In the Pinstripe Bowl last December, Syracuse routed the Mountaineers, 38-14, and Smith threw for only 201 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked three times.
In 2011, Syracuse also won big, 49-23, as Smith threw two interceptions and was sacked four times. West Virginia lost, 37-20, in 2010 as Smith threw three picks and was sacked five times by the Orange.
As both men prepare to face one another for the first time in the NFL, neither would come close to saying Marrone had Smith's number in college. As you would expect, Marrone was diplomatic in explaining away the losses, and Smith suggested it was impossible to compare Sunday's game at MetLife Stadium to college matchups.
"It's different,'' Smith said. "I know Coach had a different team then than he has now . . . so I'm not focusing on what happened then.''
Smith said he is more than familiar with the circumstances surrounding each game but feels no need to review them to try and decipher any trends.
"I haven't gone back and watched the tape,'' he said. "I don't think it's necessary. The key thing is to study this team he has now and the way they do things, which is a lot different from what they did then.''
In many ways, what he'll see from the Bills is similar to what he sees in practice. Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is a disciple of Rex Ryan, and runs just about the same defense the Jets run under Ryan. That means Smith is likely to face plenty of pressure, which is just what he got from Syracuse.
Perhaps sensing that Smith would hold the ball longer than usual under a heavy rush, Syracuse produced sustained pressure that eventually got to him.
Pocket pressure was a major factor in his inability to solve the Patriots' defense in a 13-10 loss a week ago, and it has been a point of emphasis this season. Ryan calls it finding the "escape hatch,'' the time when a quarterback must decide instantly whether he can make a throw, or whether he should scramble or take a sack.
"He's right,'' Smith said of Ryan's theory. "That comes with the process of playing, practicing, going over the repetition time and time again. If you're not able to get your [receiver], you're going to get pressured immediately, so you have to know how to get the ball out on time and where to go in a desperate time.''
He's likely to face a rush from the Bills, especially Mario Williams, who had 4.5 sacks against the Panthers. But the Bills' first-year coach said he thinks Smith has gotten significantly better since his days at West Virginia.
The Bills scouted Smith before drafting Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel in the first round. "When we were working out the quarterbacks, I was extremely impressed with [Smith],'' Marrone said. "I see him really progressing and really developing into a fine quarterback for this league.''
Marrone will see firsthand Sunday whether Smith's improvement has translated to the next level. Or whether he will continue to have the quarterback's number.