By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
For a school whose offensive football tradition has been built on the running game, West Virginia University has created quite a legacy of receivers over the years.
You can go back to Danny Buggs or James Jett, to David Saunders or Jock Sanders, to Khori Ivy or Shawn Foreman, to Chris Henry to Stedman Bailey or Tavon Austin.
For every great quarterback the Mountaineers turned out, there was someone on the other end of their passes, be their names Hostetler or Bulger, Harris or Smith.
This season, though, with a 3-4 start, a string of rotating quarterbacks and a difficult journey to Kansas State set for 3:45 p.m. Saturday up next, the passing game has been a hit-and-miss-and-miss affair.
Part of it can be laid at the feet – and arms – of the quarterbacks, but much of it can be traced to a group of young, untried wide receivers who were three games into the season before they learned their quarterbacks’ last names, let alone the favorite routes they liked to throw.
But over the past two games, even though each was a difficult loss to take, 73-42 to Baylor and 37-27 to Texas Tech, it has seemed as those things were beginning to happen and wide receivers were emerging.
Kevin White, a junior transfer from Lackawanna Junior College, caught seven passes for 130 yards against Baylor and five for 77 against Texas Tech, while true freshman Daikiel Shorts caught nine passes for 78 yards against Texas Tech.
Toss in some promising moments during the season from Ronnie Carswell and Mario Alford, and you have the makings of a dangerous receiving corps with depth.
“I’ve refrained from saying what I want to say because people would say I’m an idiot,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “I’ve always been positive about this group because I know the potential there. It’s not going to happen overnight. Getting better is a gradual incline.”
And that’s how it has been … a little bit at a time.
“Look where we are now,” Dawson continued. “This is a group of kids who didn’t have a West Virginia uniform on last year. That’s not an excuse. That’s just reality. We’re trying to preach let’s get better every week, every game.
“But now the challenge is to keep getting better. There comes a time when there has to be some fruits of your labor, and that’s a win. Otherwise, they start saying, ‘This guy is full of you-know-what.’”
Quarterback Clint Trickett is sensing something good happening.
“It’s starting to click, definitely,” he said. “The guys are making plays. Daikiel Shorts comes to mind. He made a couple of great plays. Ronnie Carswell, Kevin White … Kevin will keep making plays. Mario Alford is a fast guy and made a lot of progression this week.
“They are getting more confident and, like I said, the more confident we are, maybe big things are about to happen.”
Confidence is part of it, but maybe more important is timing. Catching passes from Paul Millard for two weeks, then Ford Childress for two and then Trickett allows no timing or chemistry to build.
“It is definitely coming along better, timing and continuity. It is very important. The team is starting to come around me, seeing I am the guy, so it is very important,” said Trickett, who will start for the fourth straight week.
“I feel like it’s getting better,” White said of the timing. “He likes to throw deep balls and gives me a shot all the time.”
And there is a difference in catching Trickett’s passes from Millard’s.
“He and Paul have different deep balls. Paul’s comes down different. His is up there a little bit longer, so it gives me time to adjust to it,” said White, who made a crucial leaping catch for 40 yards on third down. “It takes a little bit of time to develop a rapport, and I like the chemistry I have with Trickett.”
It’s up to Dawson to make sure the connection continues to improve.
“Part of it is, too, is showing they are getting better, and we are going to keep putting you in the position to get better,” Dawson said. “Kevin is a prime example. We’ve been trying to get him the ball, and now he’s starting to make plays. He’s going to continue to make more. Ronnie’s the same way, and Mario. They’re capable, so we’re going to keep feeding them.”
And Shorts is doing great things for a true freshman.
“He was the leading receiver this week,” Dawson noted. “He made some mistakes, but you’re not going to play a perfect game. I don’t think anyone ever has. To his credit, he’s been one of our more consistent players since we moved him inside in camp.”
“I’m starting to get used to it,” Shorts said. “It helped to come in early during the spring.”
Wide receiver coach Lonnie Galloway has seen the progress.
“I think we’ve gotten better each week. We had guys who had more catches this week, but I don’t think it was our best game,” he said. “Hopefully, their best football is the next game.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.