LARAMIE, Wyo. — Brett Smith has battled injuries before.
Just last year, he was in somewhat of a similar situation. It wasn't his head then. It was his throwing hand — a bothersome pain that started after Smith was stepped on and lingered until an offseason surgery fixed the issue.
If you ask the Wyoming sophomore quarterback, he'll tell you the issue with the hand was more damaging than the two concussions he has dealt with this year.
"I was not as mature last year as a player," Smith said. "Toward the end of the year, I started to get a little restless and let my mind control my emotions. I was pretty banged up at the end of the year. I think it was affecting my play."
Smith has never downplayed the severity of sustaining two head injuries in one season. He knows the blows — the first caused by a Toledo defender and the second due to Smith's helmet bouncing off the field in Nevada — are serious. When he compares the concussions to his hand, he doesn't draw similarities between the injuries themselves.
Instead, he speaks of how he handled the adversity. He says this year he is better at it. That shows in his statistics.
While Smith's overall production will take a hit due to the two games lost, his productivity has increased this season as the Cowboys prepared to play at New Mexico on Saturday.
He averages more passing yards per game (201.7 to 255.1) and more yards per attempt (6.3 to 7.8) than last season. His completion percentage has inched up (61 percent to 61.3) and his passer rating has increased from 124.6 to 147.1. Smith threw 20 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in 13 games as a freshman. In six fewer games this season, he has recorded 18 touchdown passes while being picked off six times.
Smith credits the improvement to his maturation, mostly how he has been able to rebound from health-related setbacks.
"This year, I realized all the extra things that come along with being a quarterback at a Division I program," Smith tells the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/WLqd6H). "You can't let anything affect your mindset, whether it be injuries or external factors, like whatever is going on in your personal life."
If Smith has lingering doubts about his head injuries, he has kept them from creeping into his play. After missing the Cal Poly game, he completed 23-of-35 passes for 365 yards and five touchdowns, leading UW to an overtime win against Idaho.
After missing the Air Force game, Smith returned to face two of the Mountain West's toughest defenses in back-to-back weekends. Against Fresno State and Boise State, he completed 42-of-73 passes for 374 yards and scored three touchdowns, two through the air and one with his legs. Smith also threw an interception that led to a Fresno State touchdown and lost a fumble that Boise State returned for a score. The games were his, and Wyoming's, least effective of the season, outcomes that could have potentially derailed the quarterback's success moving forward.
"When he got dinged the second time at Reno (Nev.), and he was playing well there, then he was kind of in a funk that next week," Wyoming offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon said. "He didn't play against Air Force, and he came back against Fresno, which was playing probably one of the top defenses in the league — them and Boise. And that's tough. At times, he played well against Boise. He maybe tried to do too much in that game, because we couldn't run the ball effectively (Wyoming ran for 54 yards)."
But Brandon saw his quarterback bounce back in Wyoming's 45-31 Border War win last Saturday against Colorado State.
"Against CSU, he played as good of a game as he has played since I have coached him," the veteran offensive coordinator said.
Smith scored five touchdowns against the Rams (four passing and rushing). He completed 19 of 32 for 235 yards, with no interceptions.
Any sign of a funk was gone. It was a return to form, one Smith said came easier than it would have his freshman year.
"I definitely feel a lot more mature, and I'm able to handle things as they come," he said. "This year, that confidence and comfort plays into my preparation. I don't think the injuries had as much of an impact as they did last year."
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com