Weapon Of Choice

The topic of conversation at Tuesday evening's press conference with Mountaineer head coach Dana Holgorsen eventually turned to one of the stars of his offense, Tavon Austin. As Holgorsen spoke, to use a bit of West Virginia parlance, he looked a bit like the cat who swallowed the canary.

There was a wry smile. And then a few words which could send shockwaves throughout the Big 12 Conference.

"He's looking really good," Holgorsen said. "He's moving a lot faster than he did. One of the deals that we were talking about with him earlier is that he was fast for the 15 percent of the time when the ball was in his hands, and not fast when the ball is not in his hands.

"Now he's playing fast all the time. He looks like a totally different guy, which is obviously exciting."

The thought of Austin, who proved himself to be one of the nation's most explosive playmakers with a virtuoso performance in West Virginia's 70-33 evisceration of Clemson in the Orange Bowl, looking like a "totally different guy" -- and with Holgorsen meaning that in a positive way -- is borderline unfathomable.

But the difference might be not be as dramatic to casual observers as the head coach's words might indicate.

Indeed, conversations with offensive coordinator/receivers coach Shannon Dawson on Thursday revealed that the evolution of Austin's game doesn't mean there will be new or different ways to get the speedy inside receiver the ball.

"You can [already] do whatever you want with him," Dawson said. "Golly, you have to get him the ball if he's on the field. The sky's the limit with him."

The changes Austin is making in his game, however, could make things easier on his teammates.

If Holgorsen and Dawson are to be believed, Austin's tendency to jog on plays when he wasn't a primary option to receive the ball had to have tipped off opposing defenders. And beyond his own ability to make things happen with the ball in his hands, Austin's greatest asset to the Mountaineer offense is the threat of him getting the ball.

Put simply, Austin is tough for any defender to tackle one-on-one in space. That means opposing defenses -- if they believe Austin is a threat to receive the ball on any given play -- will likely have to devote a second defender to him.

"When you do that, it can mean that Stedman [Bailey] is going to have a big day," Dawson explained. "It also works the other way if you try to eliminate Stedman in the game."

But if Austin is jogging around, those defenders likely know a second defender isn't necessary on that play, making it easier for opponents to lock up on WVU's other options.

Conversely, the sort of Austin who goes "full gas" on every snap is the most difficult sort of decoy for defenses to deal with. Gamble Austin isn't going to get the ball often enough and you'll eventually get burnt. Bracket him all game long and Bailey or others should be able to take advantage.

"It will really open things up for us," Dawson said.

That's why the positive changes in Austin's game had Holgorsen and Dawson so excited this week. But lest you think coaches have forgotten that Austin is the Mountaineers' most explosive weapon, let the head coach's last words at his Tuesday news conference allay those fears.

"We've got to get him the ball more. We did that in the bowl game. He touched it quite a bit," Holgorsen said, that same grin crossing his face once more. "Let's try to do that again."

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