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March 31, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Get ready for WVU air raid

MORGANTOWN — Those of you who cut your teeth on Don Nehlen football at West Virginia University perhaps ought to take a seat before progressing any further into this column, for it is going to be terribly shocking to anyone who believes that on third and long the proper call is a draw play.

After watching just 30 minutes of one practice with only a third, at best, of the offense installed, WVU is obviously retooling to turn it loose through the air.

This, of course, had been discussed in some detail when Dana Holgorsen jumped from Oklahoma State to run the offense this year and the team next year, but it really didn’t hit home until you saw them spread all over the field with Geno Smith flinging the football here, there and everywhere.

It led to a question that would never have been asked in the past. On the receiving end of the question was, quite fittingly, the receivers coach Shannon Dawson.

“Can you envision someone catching 100 passes for West Virginia this year?”

The CliffsNotes version of the answer was, “Yes.”

And the way it was said it sounded more like, “Are you kidding? Certainly.”

No player has ever caught 100 passes in a season at WVU.

No one has caught 90 passes in a season.

No one has caught 80.

The record is 77, shared by David Saunders and Shawn Foreman in 1997 and 1998, years when apparently some imposter who looked like Nehlen turned quarterback Marc Bulger loose on the Big East.

How, an inquiring mind wanted to know of Dawson, could someone who caught 40 or 50 passes the previous year be made into a 100-reception receiver the next year?

“Throw the ball more to him,” he answered.

Duh!

“That’s just the way it is,” Dawson said. “At Oklahoma State, Justin Blackmon I think caught 19 balls the year before (actually, it was 20, but who’s counting) and he caught 111 last year. Do you think he was thrown the same number of balls?”

Let it be noted that the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, in his first and only year there, was the same Dana Holgorsen who now runs the WVU offense.

Understand, Blackmon wasn’t exactly a world beater until Holgorsen got his hands on him. At Plainview High in Ardmore, Okla., he caught 61 passes as a senior with 14 touchdowns. He was “only” a three-star recruit, according to Rivals.com, and was listed at No. 91 among wide receiver prospects in the class of 2008.

Last year he was the Big 12’s Player of the Year and winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver.

The fact of the matter is in this offense, having a 100-catch receiver is commonplace.

“We’ve had a 100-catch receiver probably in the last five years, every year,” said Dawson, who was talking about the people who run this offense. “I had a kid catch 120 two years ago. Blackmon caught 100 and what

ever last year. A kid at Texas Tech caught 130-some one year. That’s not out of the norm.”

It doesn’t matter which of the positions the receiver plays, either. In this offense they list their receivers as H, Y, X and Z.

“If you look at the evolution of offense over the last 10 years, Wes Welker caught over 100 two years in a row (at Texas Tech), and he played H. Michael Crabtree (at Texas Tech) caught over 100, and he played Z. I had two guys in two years in a row catch over 100, and they played X. Then I had a guy who caught 118, and he played Y.

“It depends where that guy lies. We’re not going to put a guy in a certain position because that’s where we’re throwing the ball. It’s funny how the ball finds the playmakers.”

Now you have to understand that these offenses throw the ball a lot more than you ever imagined.

Dawson’s team, Stephen F. Austin, where he was offensive coordinator, threw the ball 550 times last year and had 18 different players catch the ball. The previous season they threw the ball 566 times for 4,124 yards and 40 touchdowns with Duane Brooks catching 118 passes.

So when you come to the games this year, be ready to watch the ball fly, and bring dinner. You may be there a while.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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