By John Antonik for WVUsports.com
October 10, 2011 07:37 PM
In the 122 years of Mountaineer football there have been only two 1,000-yard receivers: David Saunders in 1996 (1,043 yards) and Chris Henry in 2003 (1,006 yards).
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Well, there is a chance West Virginia could have three of them this year. Sophomore Stedman Bailey is well on his way to the 1,000-yard mark with 634 yards through the team’s first six games; junior Tavon Austin is also trending toward 1,000 with 564 yards.
And sophomore Ivan McCartney is close to maintaining a 1,000-yard pace with 455 yards receiving through his first six games.
“Stedman has been very consistent; he’s blocked well, he’s run routes well and he is making plays and all that stuff,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
All three will be back for another year, along with quarterback Geno Smith, who shows 2,159 yards and 16 touchdowns through his first six games – both record-setting paces.
It’s scary when you think about some of the numbers these guys could put up during the next year and a half together.
INDIVIDUAL NATIONAL RANKINGS
This week, Smith is third in passing yards (2,159), fifth in passing yards per game (359.83) and seventh in total offense (352.67).
Austin is sixth in all-purpose yardage (193.5), 20th in receptions per game (7.00), 23rd in receiving yards (564) and 31st in receiving yards per game (94).
Bailey is 11th in receiving yards (634), 21st in receiving yards per game (105.67) and 50th in receptions per game (5.67), while McCartney is 41st in receiving yards (455) and 50th in receptions per game (5.67).
Junior Tyler Bitancurt is 10th in the country in scoring averaging 10.5 points per game and Dustin Garrison is now a blip on the radar screen in rushing, going from nowhere two weeks ago to 72nd this week with an average of 72.7 yards per game.
When has West Virginia had an offense this potent?
Well, the Mountaineers have ended the year ranked in the top 10 in total offense just eight times in their history, most recently finishing fourth in total offense in 2006 by averaging 461.4 yards per game. West Virginia’s 1955 offense finished second in the country in total offense that year averaging 384.5 yards per game.
West Virginia’s best total offensive seasons:
1955, 2nd (384.5)
1953, 3rd (377.6)
2006, 4th (461.4)
1988, 5th (482.7)
1970, 8th (425.2)
1972, 8th (411.9)
1952, 10th (377.2)
1958, 10th (331.9)
HERE’S THE CATCH
Tyler Dunkel, New Mexico State’s media relations director, surveyed all 120 FBS schools to determine the teams with the most players with a minimum of at least five receptions this season and an average of 10.6 yards per catch.
It makes sense that New Mexico State would be leading the country in that category since their guy was researching the stat – they do with eight different players meeting the criteria - but West Virginia is close behind with six - Austin, Bailey, McCartney, Devin Brown, Brad Starks and Willie Milhouse.
And Tyler Urban (10.3) and Ryan Nehlen (three receptions) just missed the cut.
Incidentally, last season, West Virginia had only three receivers with 20 catches or more who averaged more than 10.6 yards per reception: Jock Sanders (10.6), Austin (13.6) and Bailey (13.2).
TEAM NATIONAL RANKINGS
West Virginia is ranked among the nation’s top 20 in three different offensive categories this week - passing yards (4th), total offense (11th), scoring offense (12th), and in two different defensive categories – passing defense (14th) and total defense (18th).
In fact, West Virginia is one of only three schools in the country this week to have top 20 rankings in both total offense and total defense. The other two are Wisconsin and Stanford.
Jeff Casteel’s group could be the best defense Dana Holgorsen has been associated with since he became co-offensive coordinator at Texas Tech in 2005.
The Red Raider D in 2005 when Holgorsen was there finished the season ranked 30th in total defense, giving up 335.83 yards per game.
The last three defenses Holgorsen was associated with at Oklahoma State and Houston were not very good – in 2010 Oklahoma State ranked 88th in the country allowing 409.54 yards per game; Houston’s two defenses in 2009 and 2008 ranked 111th and 100th respectively, both giving up more than 400 yards per game.
“I couldn’t be happier with where we are at right now,” said Holgorsen. “We’re getting better every week. The only way we are going to win a championship is if all three sides of the ball are improving every week. Coaches, players ... everybody has bought in. Everybody is excited about walking through the doors and excited about going to work every day.”
SPECIAL TEAMS IMPROVEMENT
West Virginia spent a lot of time last week improving its special teams play, particularly its coverage units on kickoffs and punts. Freshman Mike Molinari gave the punt team a big boost by averaging 43 yards per kick and having two punts downed inside the 20.
“Mike Molinari came in as a freshman and did a fantastic job,” said Holgorsen.
West Virginia went from being the worst team in the country in net punting to 116th, a four-spot improvement from a couple of weeks ago.
Overall, Holgorsen hopes the team’s special teams issues are behind them.
“The only real negative that we’ve seen is the kickoff return,” said Holgorsen. “We’ve been rotating people to the point where I think we’ve finally got some guys who strain their bodies to get to the ball.”
Ironically, the team that introduced the word ‘special’ into special teams play, Virginia Tech, is 118th this week in net punting.
How does that happen?
Tavon Austin is poised to become West Virginia’s 14th player to eclipse 3,000 all-purpose yards in two weeks at Syracuse. Austin has 2,963 all-purpose yards in 32 career games for an average of 92.6 yards per game.
Noel Devine is West Virginia’s No. 1 all-purpose runner with 5,761 yards for an average of 112.9 yards per game.
Amos Zereoue owns the highest all-purpose yardage average per game (140.2) - Zereoue’s 4,628 all-purpose yards coming in just 33 career games.
BEATING THE ORANGE
During his Monday morning Big East coaches’ teleconference, Holgorsen was asked if he thought Syracuse leaving the Big East for the ACC would give his team any extra motivation when the two meet in prime time on Saturday, Oct. 21. Holgorsen said he doubts it.
“Our job as coaches is to try and get them up for every game,” he said. “We don’t need any more motivation than we have. I think the morale around here is high, the excitement level to play football in general is real high and that should be all it takes.
“If we need to give them a little extra motivation we can bring up the fact that Syracuse beat West Virginia in Morgantown last year.”
The Syracuse defense last year held West Virginia to just 284 yards of offense and a pair of first-half touchdowns in a 19-14 Orange victory.
THIS WEEK’S AP POLL
West Virginia jumped three spots in this week’s AP poll to 13th following its 43-16 win over Connecticut last Saturday. It is the highest the Mountaineers have been ranked in the AP poll since Aug. 31, 2008, when West Virginia began the season No. 8 in the country.
Holgorsen, Bobby Bowden and Bill Stewart are the only coaches to begin their WVU careers in the national rankings. Bowden’s 1970 team started 20th in the AP poll while Stewart’s 2008 team began the year 8th.
Bowden’s ‘70 team spent five weeks in the poll, reaching 11th, before back-to-back losses to Duke and Pitt knocked the Mountaineers out of the rankings. Stewart’s stay in 2008 lasted four weeks until the Mountaineers suffered consecutive road losses at East Carolina and Colorado.