Go-To Guys

Quarterbacks and receivers are constantly striving to develop timing and get in sync with each other. When all that comes together, their performances can be transcendent, as West Virginia fans saw a year ago with Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.

That synchronization, that "feel", that connection, isn't easy to come by, though. It takes a lot of work on the practice field both in and out of season. Throwers and catchers have to get to the point where they can almost read each other's minds. It's built over thousands of repetitions – of running the same patterns and throwing the ball at the same time in the route.

In some cases, there's more to it than just rote muscle memory. An almost mystical bond gets constructed between a handful of players on both ends of the pass, and it's in those cases where magic occurs on the field. So what goes into those sorts of bonds? How do they get built? WVU quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital has some thoughts, based on his own career as a player and what he has seen from West Virginia's passing attack.

"You start developing favorites, because when it's crunch time, you have to go with the guy that you think is going to make the play," he said when trying to identify why some receivers become special targets for quarterbacks. "I experienced that, and we see that here, too. If you aren't comfortable with someone in a certain situation, you either check the play or don't look at him at all."

Spavital isn't saying that other receivers will be ignored, or frozen out of the offense. He's just confirming the fact that a "go-to" receiver develops as he proves his reliability with his quarterback. Unfortunately, there's no magic formula to making that rapport happen.

"Each receiver is different, so we just try to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are," Spavital said. "We have 30 minutes with the quarterbacks and receivers where they throw and catch during individual and special teams [periods], and that helps us start figuring out what each kid does best."

Practice and summer work can only go so far, though, in developing that connection. It has to be proven on the field in game situations, which much of WVU's receiving corps hasn't had the chance to do yet. Austin and Bailey have obviously done so. To a lesser extent, J.D. Woods, named the third starter by head coach Dana Holgorsen, has shown his ability in games, but freshman Jordan Thompson, the fourth first-teamer, obviously has not, since he just arrived in January. Can either of those players earn the level of trust held by Bailey and Austin? And how many spots of that sort are available?

"Last year it was obvious we had Tavon and Stedman, but we didn't have that third guy," Spavital said. "We are still looking for him. We want four guys out there that Geno is comfortable going with. We have moved receivers around to find them. That's our focus for this next week, is to figure out who those guys are.

"I think you can have three [go-to guys] for sure," Spavital continued. "If you look at what Dana has done in the past, at Texas Tech, there have been times when he's had three 1000-yard receivers. One year, he almost had four. So we want to get three for sure, and get a couple of consistent backups that can get a catch for us when we need it."

It's important to understand that Spavital (or Holgorsen) are not talking about having just three receivers that can play. The goal is at least six – maybe more. But inside that group, there are going to be two or three players that have that trust, that extra rapport, which makes them trusted targets in the tightest of situations. Who, if anyone, will that third receiver be? The process is underway to find out.


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