Key Week For WVU’s Offense Hits Midpoint
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s big week has reached its midway point.
The Mountaineers are in the main portions of honing their offensive chemistry and timing, a period coordinator Jake Spavital knows has been central in the past in getting a full understanding of the capabilities of the unit as the season opener approaches.
“It’s about this week right now,” Spavital said. “Really, about halfway through is when we start doing more live situations and putting them in different situations in terms of where they’re at on the field from two-minute, to coming out, to red zone, goal line and just see how they operate. Once they start to get a good feel for that, I think that’s when you want that all clicking.”
Spavital said he has seen that timing – or lack thereof- begin to show itself within that time frame in previous stops at Texas A&M and Cal. It’s then, when there’s a fuller understanding of where the offense is in its execution, rapport, skill level and coordination, that adjustments can be made. That should be especially important in WVU’s passing game, where the Mountaineers are expected to be without their top deep threats in Jovon Durante and Marcus Simms.
Durante has yet to report to the team, while Simms was arrested and charged with DUI and driving on a revoked license on Aug. 13. That has thinned a unit which will now rely on a heavier workload from the likes of Ka’Raun White, Gary Jennings and David Sills. While those three are proven, West Virginia needs at least one more wideout to emerge from a group of Dominique Maiden, Ricky Rogers, promising true freshman Reggie Roberson and others – at least until Simms’ suspension through the Virginia Tech game.
“I’m big on that timing,” Spavital said. “I’m starting to see Will (Grier) become very comfortable with certain players and certain routes. He’s starting to figure out why on a deep ball this guy may run it better than most people. He understands that this guy may win deep when you throw it deep or this other guy might be a back-shoulder guy. He’s starting to figure out what type of players they are.”
Spavital might also test the full abilities of Kennedy McKoy and Tevin Bush at receiver. The two are primarily running backs, but are considered the best multiple threat options in the slot position. Both could see additional time there with the losses at wideout, as McKoy has showcased a knack for the position after a prep career playing both football and basketball. The sophomore caught nine passes last season for 64 yards and a score, and is a svelte 6-0, 201 pounds.
Bush is built in the mold of former backs Noel Devine and Jock Sanders, and the New Orleans native was ranked among the top 10 all-purpose backs coming out of powerhouse Landry-Walker High. Bush amassed more than 2,500 all-purpose yards last season with 29 touchdowns in earning all-state honors as Landry-Walker went 13-2 and won the Class 5A state title.
“We’re used to only having two weeks of fall camp, so I’m not too concerned about how we’ve kind of elongated this whole fall camp when you have an extra week of actually going up against good on good for a little bit,” said Spavital, whose offense at Cal last season ranked fourth nationally in passing and 10th in total yardage while averaging more than 37 points per game. “We’re starting to build that continuity that we talked about last time. The more reps, the better we’re going to be. That’s the main thing. My emphasis is just trying to get as many reps as I possibly can throughout this fall camp.”
It’s worth noting the parallels between WVU and Spavital’s previous stop are many. Both were in their first year under the coordinator, gained a prime transfer quarterback and were working through a series of offensive tweaks that Spavital hoped would allow them to play faster ans with more misdirection. The result? Cal established single-season school records for pass completions and fewest turnovers while the Golden Bears’ 118 plays and 40 first downs in a 52-49 double overtime win against Oregon set FBS and school single-game records.
Quarterback Davis Webb, like Grier named the conference’s Newcomer of the Year after transferring from Texas Tech, passed for 4,295 yards with 37 touchdowns and ranked third nationally in completions and points responsible for per game, fourth in total offense and fifth in passing yardage. He was eighth nationally in touchdowns.
All of that has combined to put additional outside pressures on Spavital and Grier, among others, which is why the developments this week and the polishing of the offensive intricacies are vital heading into the week prior to Virginia Tech preparations.
“It’s very similar, but there are little tweaks that we do to almost every single play,” Spavital said in comparing last year’s WVU offense to this season’s. “It’s the same concept but maybe it’s a different aiming point or different type of technique. That’s where the reps become involved. Sometimes players go back to their old habits of something they did last year or in previous years. So you’re just trying to have as many reps as possible to try to get that out of them. The new system, new scheme, new players, it’s something that you have to keep repping until we get some continuity and I feel comfortable enough to roll the ball out there and let them play on their own.”