Getting In Rhythm: WVU Fights to Develop Passing Game For HoD Bowl
FRISCO, Texas — During the offseason, one of the focal points of the development of a passing attack is the sheer number of repetitions between quarterback and wide receivers. That group of players spends many hours running routes, throwing and catching passes, and honing communications that allow adjustments to be made on the fly. Come gamedays in the fall, all that work gives pass-catch duos the critical edge they need to be a threat to opposing defenses.
West Virginia is trying to cram all of that development work into just a few short weeks in December. Following the loss of quarterback Will Grier early in the Texas game, the Mountaineer receiving corps has been using every available moment to get the same synergy working with Chris Chugunov. It’s a difficult task, but David Sills believes that the weeks since the end of the regular season have advanced that process.
“A week isn’t much to get timing down, because you really only have two hard practices in a week,” Sills said of the time between that Texas contest, when Chugunov came in cold, and the Oklahoma game that ended the regular season. “It’s just reps, getting as many as you can with the quarterback throwing to you. It’s not something that happens overnight. It just comes from hard work. That’s what we’ve really tried to gain in these last couple of weeks.”
Sills’ counterpart on the opposite side, Ka’Raun White, agrees that the timing has gotten better, but understands that it’s still an ongoing process
“There are still a few things still not there yet, but hopefully with these last few days we can work on that. It’s just him knowing what we are doing and the adjustments we can make.”
The question is, will this be enough to fashion an effective passing attack, where the Mountaineers can throw the ball downfield if the situation warrants? And more importantly, can it be enough to throw the intermediate routes — the 10-15 yard passes that demand throwing the ball to a spot and knowing the receiver will be there? Those are the hardest items to develop, and the biggest question that remains for the passing game. Without it, the Mountaineers will have to rely on a ground attack that is also missing a key weapon in Justin Crawford.
Sills knows there is a difference between passing against air and working against defensive players. The first is necessary just to get quarterback and receiver comfortable with knowing each other’s tendencies, but the latter is vital in each knowing how the other will react against coverage. Sills observes that any quarterback who can throw the ball can look good with just receivers catching, but that it becomes a different thing with defenders mucking the field up.
“When it comes to the defense out there, that’s the timing we are trying to get. Communication has been going good with Chugs, and with trying to get on the same page with him. I think he’s grown in getting command of the offense, and getting us in the right play.”
Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital has also seen improvement from Chugunov in several areas.
“when we were out on the road recruiting and we weren’t in the facility, he was actually getting the receivers out there and running routes with them and starting to build some continuity,” Spavital revealed. “You throw with (redshirt junior quarterback) Will Grier the entire year, there is a lot of unknowns between each other. Throughout the course of this past month, they have been starting to work things out and you are starting to see that through his practice as well.”
An additional challenge, if one is needed, is that every receiver has different strengths, and thus different keys which are important in adjusting to coverages and communicating on the fly with the quarterback. White agrees with that, but hopes that it doesn’t impact WVU’s ability to attack through the air.
“Come game time, we will see. I am sure we will make some checks during the game, but hopefully we can throw the ball a lot.”