Durante, a true freshman out of Miramar High in Florida, made an immediate splash onto the scene with his big play potential and physical gifts. A blazing runner, Durante won the Z wideout spot over a slew of contenders, including Daikiel Shorts. Shorts’ ability to play inside and out factored in the decision to give the 6-1, 180-pound Durante the initial snaps, which should add some vertical threat to the Mountaineer offense while maintaining the ability to place a physical, 200-pound receiver in the slot in Shorts.
Gibson, penciled in at the start of fall camp as the X factor, gets the start there – at least for now, as Holgorsen said his line-up was subject to change based on practices this week. West Virginia also made a call along the line, choosing Michigan transfer Kyle Bosch as the starter at right guard. He’ll be paired with Adam Pankey at left guard, flanking center Tyler Orlosky. Redshirt freshman Yodny Cajuste (6-5, 293 lbs.) starts at left tackle, with Marquis Lucas as the right bookend.
“Based on last week, we kinda had a mock game, and that’s what we rolled out,” Holgorsen said. “(Durante’s) route running ability, outstanding speed and hand-eye coordination and ball skills are really good. We can use him in the return game as well. The whole thing with him is if he can hold up, because there will come wear and tear. Some of that will be unknown until the lights come on.”
Quite literally, as West Virginia plays host to Georgia Southern at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. The Mountaineers will also trot out Skyler Howard, and begin a full-season experiment to see if the crafty quarterback – a more mobile presence than has been a part of past Holgorsen offenses – can regain the mojo of last year. Holgorsen said quarterbacks like Howard and back-up William Crest are becoming the new norm in the offense he calls multiple.
“A lot of times in the past we would sacrifice mobility or foot speed or athleticism to get a bigger guy, smarter guy, a pocket guy,” Holgorsen said. “It seems like everybody across the country now, they are not going to sacrifice the athleticism and footwork and speed because they want to be more multiple with the quarterback and in the run game. You are gonna have to sacrifice something there, because there are only a couple (QBs) across the country who are as good as you want them to be in all areas. You want a guy who can get you out of trouble so you don’t have to call perfect plays all the time.”
The other facet of the Holgorsen offense that continues to emerge is the ability for players to man multiple positions so that they can tempo and ensure defenses don’t make liberal match-up substitutions. Thus, the value of Shorts, along with players like Jordan Thompson, Wendell Smallwood and Cody Clay. Smallwood and Clay could both line-up in the backfield or become a receiving threat as a slot wideout and tight end, respectively, giving Holgorsen significantly more options in the play calling sphere even when operating at a fast pace.
It’s perhaps the principal display of how different Holgorsens’ offense is to a truer “Air Raid” style, such as the one ran by Mike Leach at Washington State. The Cougars were last in the FBS in rush yards last season and second-to-last in rush yards per attempt while leading the nation in passing yards per game – by 100 yards more than any other team. But they also led the Pac-12 in turnovers and finished just 3-9 partially due to an inability to adapt, utilize the run game and operate the offense out of both pure power and wide open passing sets. West Virginia rushed for 153 yards per game, good for fifth in the Big 12.
“Just having guys who can do multiple things allows you to get into multiple sets,” Holgorsen said. “I’m trying to do that as much as I can with different guys. The days of personelling people are becoming a little harder. The tight end and fullback positions are becoming pretty valuable. They can be going into the game, but you never know where they will line up. The trick is making sure the learn it and get good at the technique they need to play with.”