Toughness Challenge Not a Problem For WVU’s Gary Jennings

Toughness Challenge Not a Problem For WVU’s Gary Jennings

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — While West Virginia’s coaches were busy throwing down the gauntlet to their players over issues of toughness and effort, there was one player that probably didn’t need that proverbial kick in the rear. Wide receiver Gary Jennings has displayed that quality throughout his career, but it is really showing up in 2017. Moving inside to provide a reliable short and mid-range threat to replace the departed Daikiel Shorts, Jennings has caught a team-best 69 passes for 823 yards. That works out to 11.9 yards per catch, which is just fourth-best on the team, but that in no way is an indictment of his receiving skills. It’s a direct function of the routes he is asked to run and how he is mostly used in the offense.

If there’s a first down to be gained, or a middle area of the field to be attacked, Jennings is option number one. Once he makes the catch he takes hits — probably more than anyone else other than the running backs. He stands up to that repeated contact, though, and keeps digging for yardage. That has been an underappreciated part of the Mountaineer offense, but without him WVU wouldn’t have six wins so far this year.

The Iowa State game was a perfect demonstration of what he brings to the squad. Seven catches, 63 yards. No huge gains — his longest catch went for 18 yards. But most every one was followed by a grind for extra yardage, including one where Iowa State never really halted his forward progress. That play was whistled to a stop by the addled officiating crew that made several poor judgments, but Jennings noted, with his ever-present smile, that he wasn’t stopped and would have gained more yardage.

“I’ve been catching the ball in traffic for quite some time now, but the toughness was emphasized this week,” Jennings said afterward. “When Coach Holgorsen challenged us, we took that to heart. Every single play, we were trying to show that [toughness] . As a receiver group, we took that personally.”

While blocking, as Jennings noted, is a primary area in which toughness can be displayed, there are also others, including route running, where it comes into play. Again, that’s not something he has a problem with, and there’s no secret to his approach. Whether it’s taking a hit and still pushing forward or finishing off a block, it’s all the same.

“Just embracing that quality and being able to get those tough yards,” he said

So as you appreciate the deep balls sailing downfield to Ka’Raun White and Marcus Simms, and the touchdown grabs of David Sills, spare a few moments to applaud Jennings as he digs out the catches in traffic and moves the sticks with yards after the catch. Those, as much as the more eye-catching plays, are ones that can help build wins.