Targets Aplenty For 2018 WVU Passing Game
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As West Virginia heads into the summer in preparation for the 2018 season, they do so with a plethora of riches at one position — wide receiver.
Despite the graduation of Ka’Raun White, the Mountaineers return more targets for quarterback Will Grier than the great actor Mickey Rooney had wives, and he had eight of them.
True, none of them could catch like Gary Jennings, work into the end zone like David Sills V, get free deep like Marcus Simms or run as fast as T.J. Simmons, at long last a couple of tight ends who can catch the ball and figure to be emphasized and some running backs have proven an ability to catch the ball.
Of course, most of the focus remains on Sills, who led the nation in touchdowns last season with 18, and Jennings, whose 97 catches not only led the Mountaineers last season but were fifth-most in school history.
Yet there was one amazing statistical abnormality between Sills and Jennings last season that must be addressed, for rather than being a strength it could be a weakness.
While Sills was catching those 18 touchdown passes, Jennings numbered among his 97 receptions just one that brought the ball into the end zone.
Compare that to the four players who caught more passes in a season that him — Stedman Bailey caught 114 in 2012 and scored 25 touchdowns, Tavon Austin caught 114 in 2012 and had 12 TDs, Kevin White caught 109 i 2014 and had 10 TDs, and Austin caught 101 in 2011 and scored 8 TDs.
So what happened? Why the disparity from one receiver to the other?
No one seems sure, other than to think it was just a freak of nature.
“Gary is obviously a very, very talented guy. He caught a lot of balls and just couldn’t find the end zone. I’ve never seen anything like it,” admitted quarterback Will Grier. “He scores all the time in practice. It’s just one of those things. I think this year you will see him in the end zone a lot more.
“I don’t think David will have any less touches than he had last year, so he’ll get into the end zone. Hopefully Gary will get in the end zone more.”
“I guess we’ll find out this year,” added Sills. “Gary had nearly 100 catches last year. He had a great year. He had more yards than I did. We kind of laugh about it sometimes. I doubt he’ll have one touchdown this year. He’ll have double digit touchdowns this year.”
Part of it was that Jennings greatest assets were his hands and his toughness, an ability to catch the ball in traffic and on key downs.
He became the main target on possession downs, third and 8 and the like, moments not meant to score touchdowns but to make first downs … and seldom did he let Grier of the Mountaineers down.
With Simms’ ability to go deep through his speed and Sills ability to find his way into the end zone requiring extra attention, things worked for Jennings on the shorter balls.
He understands that he and Sills were a special duo last year.
“It’s a great combo,” he said, “but it’s all of us together that’s going to be scary this year. What we struggled with in the past is depth. That’s what we have now. We have a lot of young guys coming in and that will help so we don’t burn out at the end of the season.”
Grier feels the same way about the group he is throwing to this season.
“It’s great,” he said. “Just building off of what we did last year. The chemistry is obviously there when you have guys that are experienced and guys that you have played with that is always a good thing.”
To Grier, though, the best part of it is that they are more than just gifted receivers.
“I have a good group of guys,” he said. “They are good people, they work hard, they are fun to be around, we enjoy getting better together. We push each other. That’s a great group, it’s really an awesome group to work with. So it’s been fun.”
The real fun will being when he starts throwing to them for real in Charlotte against Tennessee in the opener.