West Virginia's Receivers Feed Off One Another As Passing Game Catalysts

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - As head coach Dana Holgorsen has explained, West Virginia's passing game has big play potential. But that is often triggered by a single act that turns into an avalanche.

The Mountaineers, it seems, feed off one another's explosive plays in situations that then become a frenzy at times. It happened in the Cactus Bowl against Arizona State, when a 53-yard reception from Skyler Howard to Ka'Raun White on the game's second play jumpstarted an offense that rolled up 676 yards of offense including 532 in the air. White finished with four catches for 116 yards in the 43-42 win that largely salvaged WVU's season. It was his best yardage output of his career, and his second-best in terms of receptions; he had five for 80 yards against Texas Tech.

That play seemed to trigger the other receivers, with Daikiel Shorts totaling six catches for 97 yards and two scores in a career day, while Shelton Gibson ran behind a sieve-like secondary all game, catching four passes for 143 yards and an easier-than-it-should-be 59-yard touchdown reception. The two even combined on the game's most surprising, if not spectacular, play when Howard's throw to Gibson ricocheted off his hands, only to be nearly caught, then batted in the air by an ASU defender before Shorts made a diving grab for a first down.

"It’s pretty contagious," White said. "That’s why, me or Daikiel will say, ‘Ka’Raun make a play, so we can get it going again’. If we don’t make a play, it just keeps going throughout and everyone just gets out of it. It’s definitely contagious."

There was a similar occurrence in the win over Maryland, when the Mountaineers scored 28 points in less than 20 minutes of play. The burst was highlighted by a pair of touchdowns receptions by Gibson, the last a 41-yarder over the top of the Terps defensive backfield after which he bowled over a cheerleader behind the end zone. It was the same versus Texas, when a deep shot to Jovon Durante just before the half gave West Virginia a needed 21-10 lead in what would eventually be a 38-20 victory. And a week earlier, White had ripped away a 50-50 ball against Texas Tech on a third and two from WVU's own 28-yard-line. The resulting 27-yard run put the Mountaineers at the Red Raider 41-yard-line, and led to Wendell Smallwood's 21-yard scoring run for a 14-7 lead.

But the same is also true of the flipside. If West Virginia doesn't get that big play, that needed jolt of voltage during a game, the offense can lull. It happened in the loss to Oklahoma State, when the offense was shutout in the first half and the team managed just two points on Kyle Rose's sack in the end zone. It happened against TCU in the 40-10 drubbing, when the offense was shutout in three of four quarters. Same versus Kansas State, WVU being corralled for just three points through the first 27:24 minutes despite a dominating defense with multiple sacks and two interceptions.

It was also what plagued the team in its open Saturday scrimmage, when the offense failed to score on its first nine possessions and only managed a field goal - set-up by a long reception by Durante - on its 10th and final series.

"We lacked execution," White said, "especially because it was hot out. We are trying to get used to the heat. Game time we’re going to be playing at noon (against Missouri), so we have to get used to it. It was a good feeling out there. ... Game time is going to be just as hot so we’re not going to be able to quit during game time because then we’re going to be getting booed by the fans. We just have to keep fighting and keep pushing. We’ll be okay."


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