By John Antonik for WVUsports.com
December 26, 2011 02:30 PM
|Sophomore Stedman Bailey caught a team-best 11 touchdowns in 2011.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
West Virginia has had some pretty good pass catching duos through the years - Danny Buggs-Marshall Mills in the early-1970s and Shawn Foreman-David Saunders in the 1990s are two who immediately come to mind - but no duo has been able to accomplish what Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin did in 2011.
Austin ranks second in the country in all-purpose yardage averaging 191.2 yards per game, the junior setting a school regular season record with 2,294 yards heading into next week’s Discover Orange Bowl game against Clemson. He scored seven touchdowns three different ways this season and caught a school-best 89 passes for 1,063 yards and four touchdowns as the team’s Mr. Inside.
Mr. Outside, sophomore Stedman Bailey, ended the regular season with 67 catches for a Big East-leading 1,197 yards to go along with 11 touchdowns. Bailey topped 100 yards receiving seven times including a career-high 178 yards in West Virginia’s 43-16 win over Connecticut.
Bailey and Austin became the first duo in school history to post 1,000 yards receiving in the same season – something Bailey is proud of.
“It means a lot to me and Tavon, first and foremost, to represent this university by being among the top receivers in the nation,” said Bailey. “We pretty much complement each other - helping each other out on the field. We always keep each other motivated. He’s helped me out a lot and I appreciate Tavon.”
Of the two, it was Austin who got most of the recognition this season, the Baltimore resident earning first team All-America honors as a return specialist by CBS College Sports.com, third team All-America status by AP and was named Big East special teams player of the year.
Austin said he never doubted that he could dominate games in college the way he did in high school despite his small stature.
“When I was in high school everybody always said I was not going to be able to do this in college because I was too small,” said Austin. “Now that I’ve accomplished all these goals and everything is going my way right now, I’m proud of myself. I know I’m a small person, but at the same time, I’ve got a big heart.”
Bailey, just a second team all-Big East performer despite ranking 13th nationally in receiving yardage and third in the conference in scoring, also has a big heart. Plus, the Miami native was just as valuable as Austin was to the Mountaineers in the passing game this fall.
“He just makes plays,” said Austin of Bailey. “He barely drops the ball. And he’s always positive in practice. He is always bringing me up.”
Actually, Bailey brought up Austin in more ways than one. While Tavon did most of his work at the line of scrimmage and across the middle, mostly on crossing routes, it was Bailey who became West Virginia’s best downfield threat since Chris Henry, averaging 17.9 yards per catch with 16 of Bailey’s 67 receptions going for 20 yards or longer (seven of those going for touchdowns).
Having the two working the entire field means defenses can’t just focus on stopping one guy in order to slow down West Virginia's offense.
“It’s helpful for me to be able to take the top off the defense and then you’ve got Tavon who can catch a lot of things underneath and make guys miss,” said Bailey. “That keeps the defense on their heels.”
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen can bunch Bailey and Austin together, line them up on separate sides of the field and use them in a variety of ways.
“That’s what’s so dynamic about this offense,” said Bailey. “He can put us in different spots and just pretty much put the playmakers where they need to be to make a play.”
“Not only one person is getting the ball,” Austin added. “It shows everybody can touch the ball and when you get it you’ve got to do something with it.”
The Mountaineers actually had a third big playmaker in the passing game during the first part of the year when sophomore Ivan McCartney was healthy, but McCartney’s numbers declined dramatically after game six. After catching 34 passes for 455 yards and three touchdowns heading into the Syracuse game, McCartney’s final six outings showed only 13 catches for 117 yards and no touchdowns.
McCartney was understandably disappointed, telling one reporter last week that he is giving himself a failing grade after the way he finished the season. Bailey, a high school teammate of McCartney’s, says Ivan has always been pretty hard on himself.
“He knows what he can do on the football field,” said Bailey. “In the second part of the season he kind of slowed down and me and Tavon were able to continue our streaks of the big things we were doing. I guess he was probably disappointed a little bit about it, but it just motivates him. If he grades himself as an F, I expect him to come out and have a big game.”
Still, Bailey says McCartney is a completely different player than the one who performed sparingly for the Mountaineers as a true freshman in 2010.
“From last year to this year it was a deal with him about attitude and he fixed that up a whole lot,” said Bailey. “With him, he’s got to improve his consistency. He’s a big playmaker and he has all the intangibles to get the job done.”
Perhaps one, two, or all three guys can have big games against Clemson on Jan. 4. Now wouldn’t that be fun to watch?
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