Wide receivers are not judged by receptions and drops alone, and the blocking of West Virginia’s receivers came under scrutiny this week after a subpar outing against TCU.
“Our perimeter blocking was as poor as I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said offensive coordinator/receivers coach Shannon Dawson. “(TCU) just beat us.”
During one of my first conversations with Dawson back in August, the Louisiana native was harping on the importance of his guys being able to block in space. Some slower-developing plays require receivers to engage and hold their blocks for several counts, while on other quick-hitters, a chip on a defender will suffice.
Because WVU frequently lines up in four-wide sets, the receivers’ blocking can be paramount, even on plays that aren’t necessarily designed to be explosive. As Dawson said this week, “Routine plays turn into big plays when everybody does their job with great effort.”
He pointed to the jet sweep “pass” Tavon Austin caught in the backfield and turned into a 43-yard touchdown against TCU.
“It’s third-and-3 or -4, we’re just trying get a first down, and we get 50 yards,” Dawson said. “If you watch that play, (Andrew) Buie blocks two people. J.D.’s running down the field backside blocking three people. It’s just amazing how, for some reason on that play, everybody is playing great.
“Then you watch ace outside zone and we have two people not even touching anybody.”
OSU WAS A SPRINGBOARD
The concept of job-hopping draws negative connotations, but with staffs perpetually in flux, coaches and athletic administrators understand the ladder-climbing aspects of the business.
Take Dana Holgorsen’s in-and-out stay at Oklahoma State in 2010. Hired away from the University of Houston to become OSU’s offensive coordinator on Jan. 15, he promptly helped transform the Cowboys’ into the nation’s top offense the next fall. By mid-December, after living in a Stillwater hotel for 10 months, Holgorsen agreed to become West Virginia’s coach-in-waiting.
“You’re asking if I was ready to go take another job? Well, that was the goal,” Holgorsen said. “I felt in order to get a (head-coaching) job like I’m fortunate to have now, it was going to take being a coordinator at a little higher level (than C-USA Houston). …
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy admitted this week that Holgorsen’s departure after only one season “threw him a curve ball,” because he anticipated his new coordinator would need two years to bolster his resume. But when the Cowboys zoomed to the top of the NCAA total offense statistics in one season, Holgorsen became a hot commodity.
“In my conversations with (Mike Gundy) and Mike Holder — their AD, who is a good friend and a great administrator — I said wasn’t going to go there for a year and leave for the same job,” Holgorsen said. “It was going to take a job like this (West Virginia) for me to leave.”
Holgorsen insisted his brief time at Oklahoma State was productive for all involved, a sentiment Gundy echoed.
“Dana was good for us,” Gundy said this week. “When we made the transition three years ago, it was good that we were able to make a smooth transition and be able to put up some good offensive numbers and score some points. It was good that he was able to come in here. We learned a lot from his system.”
OSU’s Joseph Randle tops the Big 12 with 934 yards rushing, though he’s coming off a lackluster 15-carry, 43-yard effort against K-State. He’s convinced Saturday’s matchup against West Virginia will give him back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
“I thought last week was going to be the week I did it, but it looks like this week is going to be the week,” Randle said. “I should be able to get 66 yards or I’m not doing my job right.”
In Oklahoma State’s rich tailback tradition, five players have posted multiple 1,000-yard seasons: Terry Miller did it three times, while Thurman Thomas, David Thompson, Tatum Bell and Kendall Hunter accomplished it twice.
Tavon Austin has been a special-teams dynamo in WVU’s past two games — scoring on a 100-yard kick return against Kansas State and a 76-yard punt return versus TCU. But Mountaineers special teams coach Steve Dunlap wonders if Austin will get an opportunity against OSU.
Dunlap said Cowboys punter Quinn Sharp is an all-Big 12 boomer, “a guy who gets Todd Sauerbrun-type hang time.” Sharp ranks ninth nationally with a 46-yard average, and his 73-yarder is among the NCAA’s longest this season.
“I don’t know where to put Tavon,” Dunlap said. “Should I put him at 50 yards? Or 60? Or 70?
“He’s obviously the best in the country. He can flip the field on you. Hopefully he can outkick the coverage and we can get Tavon a return.”
Sharp also is among the league’s top place-kickers, going 18-of-23 on field goals this season, and has taken advantage of the new NCAA kickoff position to bang no-doubter touchbacks .