By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
In a couple of seasons of Dana Holgorsen’s “Air Raid” offense, West Virginians became accustomed to a lot of flash and flair, of Stedman Bailey running deep under a Geno Smith bomb or Tavon Austin taking a 6-inch pass and turning into a 60-yard gain.
The offense was as modern as tomorrow’s I-pad, making yesterday’s offense as obsolete as the hula hoop.
Then, this past week, Holgorsen reached back in time to pull out one of yesterday’s weapons, one that hadn’t become obsolete but which had, in most collegiate offenses, become as scarce as Don Nehlen’s draw play.
Holgorsen rediscovered the tight end in the person of Cody Clay.
Clay is hardly the prototype receiver you find in the Holgorsen offense. At 6-3 and 252 pounds, he is listed on the roster as a running back, although his main duty really is to block, giving WVU an extra blocker at the point of attack on certain running plays.
However, this former George Washington High star, has emerged into maybe the most reliable receiver the WVU quarterback – whoever holds that job on a given day – has in key situations.
This past week, in a 30-21 upset of No. 11 Oklahoma State, Clay caught a career-high three passes, each for a first down.
“I was definitely happy to get involved in the offense in that way,” Clay said this week as he and the Mountaineers prepared for Saturday’s 8 p.m. game at Baylor. “It was fun for me, and I felt like I was in high school a little bit again.”
Oh, how many of us have wished for that feeling, be it on a football field or simply when taking our morning dose of blood pressure medicine.
“I was getting open, and they were throwing the ball to me, which is something we have not done for a little bit,” Clay continued. “Oklahoma State was not expecting it all, and there was another time I was open but just didn’t get the ball. It was definitely cool for me. They didn’t know what to do with it until the second half, when they made some adjustments.”
Why should the Cowboys have come up with a defense for a man who seldom did anything but block? It was like creating a defense to defend scout team quarterback Logan Moore.
“We had not run that play in the previous games,” Clay explained. ‘I kind of just went to get open. In the past, I was doing some routes just across the field. Now, I am literally just going and finding an open void, and sitting down. It is pretty easy. All I am doing is going five yards and turning around.”
The thing is, the play is designed to go to Clay, which shows a great confidence in his ability to catch the ball in key situations.
“I am the first look on that play, because I am so close to Clint (Trickett) already,” he said. “It is a third-and-short play, so that is what we are doing. The second catch was a different play, but the first and third catches were the same. I feel like a tight end now. I am more of a moving tight end that can catch some passes. Before, I felt comfortable blocking and not so much receiving.”
One reason Clay has been targeted on these key plays is that there has been an inconsistency among the wide receivers catching the ball.
Clay has not had that problem, but he knows that he’s had so few chances the jury remains out.
“I have to prove it to myself every day. I’m pretty tough on myself, but once I catch that first ball I’m pretty good,” he said.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.