The Times West Virginian

September 6, 2011

Austin shines on returns, not a factor elsewhere

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — The tendency is, if you have 600 or 700 or so words to use on the West Virginia Mountaineers’ curtain-raising 34-13 victory over Marshall on Sunday, to use most of them extolling slot receiver Tavon Austin.

He was, after all, the hero of that victory.

Hero? Yes. Star? No.

See, coach Dana Holgorsen, who made his head coaching debut in the game that was shortened to just more than three quarters from a dangerous electrical storm that produced rain, hail and lightning, saw the dark side of his performance.

Let us first recap, as Holgorsen did, the Tavon Austin who performed so well returning kicks that he was named the Big East’s Special Team Player of the Week.

“He had a good kick return with a good scheme by coach (Daron) Roberts,” Holgorsen said following the game. “We had a plan and the kids executed it. We had a couple of punt returns, he averaged 15 yards per punt return, so he was good in his return game, but it’s something he will be good at every game.”

Indeed he will, for there really is nothing to limit him in the return game short of the goal line. Against Marshall he took a kickoff back 103 yards for a score, a return that officially is listed as 100 yards by rule. It was the second 100-yard kickoff return of his career.

One can only imagine that it won’t be long before opponents stop kicking the ball to him, for there just is no upside to it, so good is his ability to operate in the open field.

But there was another side to Austin’s game, a very disappointing side. He was supposed to be a threat out of the slot, not only a touchdown maker but an excitement maker.

That really didn’t happen, although he had three catches for 32 yards.

“He played poor on offense. He played really poor on offense,” said Holgorsen.

One suspects that includes blocking, a requirement for the receivers, something that was made evident on a run by Andrew Buie, the freshman running back who won the starting job. His final carry saw him crushed by a Marshall linebacker, a hit that left him bruised and out of the game and questionable for next week.

“He took a good shot that welcomed him to college football,” Holgorsen said. “It was receiver breakdown and the guy blew him up.”

Holgorsen did not pin that on Austin, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it was his missed block, for Holgorsen was upset with Austin on more than one occasion.

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The Big East, so often maligned, finished the first week of play with an 8-0 record, granted many of the games were against weak opponents.

But there was the matter of South Florida defeating Notre Dame in South Bend, a rather huge victory for Skip Holtz, especially considering his father, Lou, once won a national title with the Fighting Irish.

The high of that victory soon was soured as the next day, Sunday, Lee Roy Selmon, a former Oklahoma great who came to South Florida and helped build the program into a budding power, suffered a stroke and died.

“It was just a real bittersweet weekend,” Holtz said.

Holtz said Selmon was behind his coming to Tampa, even though he only had met him once for an hour and a half when he was in for his interview.

“He carried himself with class and gentleness,” Holtz said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been so impressed with a person in one meeting. He sold me on his beliefs and his vision for this program and what he thought the program could become. After being with him I said this is something I want to be with.”

Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano became close with former North Carolina Coach Butch Davis, who was fired in the midst of a scandal that has put the Tar Heel program on probation.

“He is a dear friend of mine and mentor of mine,” Schiano said. “He is a guy I’d like coaching my sons if they were blessed to be playing the game at a collegiate level. He is a man of integrity and I am disappointed they went down the way they did.”

Asked if he thought Davis would handle it well, Schiano answered:

“He’s a tough guy. He’s a man of character. His faith will see him through.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.