By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Common knowledge had it that West Virginia was going into its spring game, which culminates spring practice, looking for a quarterback with Paul Millard and Ford Childress dueling it out while Clint Trickett, who is looking for a new home after a less-than-fulfilling career at Florida State, watched from the sideline.
But this was much more than auditions for someone to fill the size 183XXX shoes — or so they seemed — of Geno Smith.
In truth, what all of this is about is finding playmakers … any kind of playmakers for Coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense is constructed on people making plays. True, it helps if the quarterback is a first-round draft pick, but how many 6-inch tap passes did Tavon Austin turn into breakaway gains and how many times did Stedman Bailey’s strong hands and precise pass routes turn an incompletion into a completion and more?
And it isn’t just in the passing game that Holgorsen allows playmakers to do their thing. He put Austin at running back and he rushed for a school record 344 yards against no less a team than Oklahoma and also has among his backs on hand this season Dustin Garrison, who had a 291-yard rushing game before blowing out a knee, and Andrew Buie, who surpassed 200 yards in a game last season.
What Holgorsen was auditioning was playmakers and considering that dimunitive wide receiver Jordan Thompson showed the ability to catch six passes for 123 yards and three touchdowns and Kevin White was able to take a wide receiver screen that was completely covered and turn it into a 46-yard touchdown makes you realize that WVU may not get shut out seven or eight times this season as you may have thought it would.
In fact, Holgorsen says he’s not worried at all about having playmakers on his roster come next fall.
“We have guys in that room who are going to be playmakers,” he said when asked about it following the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game that brought forth a disappointing crowd of about 8,000 who also were unsure if there is life after Geno, Tavon and Stedman.
“Just the nature of the offense and what we do (creates playmakers). No one knows their names yet, because they don’t have experience, but some of those guys have shown really good signs,” Holgorsen said, sounding a lot like the chorus from the song “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band:
Signs, Signs, Everywhere there's signs.
Blocking out the scenery. Breaking my mind.
Do this! Don't do that! Can't you read the signs?
That’s what Holgorsen is doing, reading the signs and waiting for it to happen.
“To sit here and put a mark on any of them, no, I can’t do that because in my mind if you don’t do something in a game it’s probably not worth talking about. We’re going to let them come along,” he said.
That’s why he held back on heaping praise on Jordan Thompson for his performance or even on Kevin White.
Holgorsen believes they aren’t alone and that coming in the fall there is a group of receivers who may not make you forget Austin and Bailey but who might remind you of them.
“We’ll have guys who can make plays,” Holgorsen assured anyone who wanted to listen. “Each and every year that we lost great players the initial reaction is how are we going to score a point? But we’ve had guys step up. We’ll have guys step up.
“We have a whole bunch of receivers who will be competing their butts off all summer long.”
And when you get talented players who have to fight for playing time, things get intense.
“We have guys who will make plays. They may not be here now, but we have four guys coming in that are pretty good playmakers. You add those guys to the mix, there’s going to be a whole lot of competition.
“Sometimes it takes competition for someone to actually emerge. I feel very good about some of those guys.”
So, who are these guys who are coming in and joining Thompson and White among the receivers?
Holgorsen named them.
“We got Shelton Gibson, who was on the sideline today. We have Ronald Carswell, Jacky Marcellus and Mario Alford coming in. We feel real good that they have the ability to make plays in space,” he said.
Some coaches land a playmaking receiver and they are thrilled. Some are more than thrilled with two.
It was that way forever at West Virginia, which had some fine receivers over the years, but didn’t put the premium on playmaking receivers that Holgorsen does.
Now, if he can get a quarterback to get them the ball consistently without making mistakes, an offensive line that opens holes for his running backs and protects his quarterbacks and a defense that slows the opposing Big 12 offenses, he may have a football team capable of matching the neat new Nike uniforms they debuted Saturday and will wear next season.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.