WVU Receivers Hit, Miss on Big Play Potential Against Kansas State
MANHATTAN, Kan. — West Virginia wide receivers Ka’Raun White and Gary Jennings came up with big catches — of both short and long yardage — in the Mountaineers’ win over Kansas State, but a plauge of drops and passes skipping off the hands of Mountaineer receivers into those of the Wildcats kept what could have been a very good offensive day from playing out. The Mountaineers put up 28 first half points despite two picks that should have been catches, and two other drops on very catchable balls also killed potential scoring drives. Thus it has been for WVU for much of the year. For all the productivity in the passing game in 2017, there have been numerous yards and points left on the field.
Perhaps the rain, which ranged from a fog-like mist to an annoying drizzle, was an issue. Kansas State defenders blamed it for their inability to corral WVU quarterback Will Grier, who slipped like an eel through the clutches of defenders in the pocket. Wide receiver Ka’Raun White didn’t avail himself of that excuse, though.
“It was pretty good today. I had on rain gloves so it was ok. The last game (against Oklahoma State) they gave us some different gloves that weren’t as good as the ones we had today, but we just have to focus and catch the ball no matter what the situation is.”
During that game wide receivers coach Tyron Carrier told his players to ditch the gloves, which didn’t meet WVU’s performance specs. However, the ones used against K-State were apparently ok, but there was still a rash of drops. Both WVU interceptions were passes that should have been completions, as they glanced off the hands of receivers. David Sills, who made one of the most spectacular touchdown catches in WVU history in the first half, dripped a wide-open, in-stride toss that would have, at worst, set WVU up with a first and goal situation. Even Gary Jennings, who routinely makes catches in traffic, had a drop.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen was unsympathetic in that regard. When asked if the offense’s inconsistency might be stemming from frustration over the drops, he pulled no punches.
“They have to make those catches,” he said, his own frustration plain to see. “It doesn’t matter what [the weather] is like.”
Even with those missed chances, WVU came up with enough to get the win. There was White, streaking downfield for a 75-yard touchdown catch to rally the Mountaineers from a 6-0 deficit, then breaking free on Grier’s scramble on the final play of the first half to snare a 30-yard toss.
“I had a little spot route on and I saw Will started scrambling,” White said of the latter play. “I took it up the hash and got in the end zone. We work it in practice, so in game situations we’re able to make some plays.”
Then there’s Jennings, who equaled a career high with 13 grabs. That gives him 82 on the season, fifth best in school history, and with three games to go gives him a shot at the single season mark of 112 held jointly by Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. As Grier’s safety blanket and a peerless performer at working the short and mid-range zones, especially in the middle of the field, that’s not out of the question.
Jennings, like White, knows that Grier’s scrambling and escapability (which apparently comes as a surprise to some of those routinely covering the team) keeps any snap alive.
“When the rush gets back there, we know the play is definitely not over,” said Jennings, who has a knack for finding open spots and providing an angle for quarterbacks to get him the ball. He did that on perhaps his biggest (and shortest) reception of the game – a five-yard catch on fourth-and-three form the K-State 31-yard line that locked up the win for WVU. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital acknowledged that Jennings’ proven ability in clutch situations was a big factor in picking the play call — a quick outside cut — that allowed the Mountaineers to pick up the first down.
“It feels great,” Jennings acknowledged. “When your name is called you have to make that play. I made sure I had that extra yardage.”