Mountaineers: By The Numbers
Hello Mountaineer fans, and welcome to the second installment of Mountaineers: Between The Numbers.
Today we will be tackling an issue that seems to be at the forefront of WVU’s concerns for this upcoming season – who will lead the WR corps in 2015? After a season of Kevin White and Mario Alford, and only 2 seasons removed from the historically productive Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin – West Virginia is rightfully wondering who will fill that void, with no proven producers on the roster.
To get an idea of what types of players have succeeded at WR in Holgorsen’s offense, we took a pretty simple approach: Year by Year touchdown leaders, plus their performance the previous year. Meaning, who lead the pack, and what were they doing before anyone knew who they were?
One thing became immediately apparent – Dana Holgorsen has faced this challenge before – and only once has he not been able to find production. Not surprisingly, that was during the disastrous 2013 campaign, a season in which the Air Raid offense took a black eye.
Below you will see the table of data that represents the ten years in which Holgorsen has been an Offensive Coordinator or Head Coach. You will see 4 schools, 9 players (only the great Stedman Bailey appears twice), and (other than 2013), steady production. You will also see a trend. Dana does not need returning stars. Or, at least, has not needed them yet. His best wide receiver is rarely the best wide receiver he had “last year”, and, 70% of the time, it is someone with less than 5 touchdowns the previous season. 3 times a receiver has come from literally nowhere – 0 touchdowns in the previous year – to lead the team in scores through the air. This speaks to Holgorsen’s ability to find the perfect spot for unproven players to reach their full potential, and is the main reason I’m not joining the pity party regarding the passing game in Morgantown in ’15. Generally speaking, if Dana is there, if the Air Raid is there, someone catches touchdowns. A lot of them:[table “11” not found /]
So what do we see here? Other than a reminder of the sublime brilliance of the greatest wide receiver in WVU history, Stedman Bailey, of course. Hope. We see hope. If you think Red Raider fans were driving 100-catch Joel Filani to the airport in 2008 to make room for a redshirt freshman from Dallas, Texas, that wasn’t able to earn a scholarship offer from the Longhorns – I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. Still, I’d say Michael Crabtree filled in pretty well. Fact is, teams are replacing production all over the country, every year. This is not new to Holgorsen, and I’d doubt it’s new to any staff. The question is – how well do they do it? Dana does it well, and often. As shown above, Holgorsen’s leading TD pass catcher averages a TEN touchdown increase compared to his previous season. TEN!
So who will take the ten touchdown leap be this year? I have my favorite, and I will share that prediction, but let’s first take a look at the candidates:[table “12” not found /]
Well, if Dana is looking for fresh fruit, he’s got plenty for the picking here. It’s a safe bet that whoever rises to the occasion will reach heights previously unseen in his career. Every player on this list fits the profile of under-utilized/non-productive role player that has become Holgorsen’s go-to-guy in the past, so we must look a bit deeper here. Who is comfortable in this offense? Who has flashed before? Who has the talent, which, if maximized, can make an impact from week 1?
Sure handed, utterly fearless over the middle, experienced, and talented.
This combination of factors, and Holgorsen’s ability to find production, leave me with a surprising level of confidence that Shorts is about to begin a highly productive two year stretch. He will do it differently from Kevin White and Mario Alford and Tavon Austin, but can be expected to flash the genius level understanding of the position – body control, change of pace, use of leverage – that allowed Bailey to develop into the nation’s most productive receiver.
So – who do you like? Why? Is there precedent in Dana’s system for a player like this? How do you feel about Shorts? Let me know this, and more, in the comments below.
There is no denying that WVU needs at least 1, probably 4, wide receivers to step up. I do not foresee it being such a struggle to do so. Not in this offense.