WVU football: Receivers will see more passes thrown their way
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- For the purpose of full disclosure, Shannon Dawson played quarterback and receiver at a Division II college and coached those positions before becoming West Virginia's inside receivers coach in the offseason.
So with all of that in mind, it's not surprising to learn Dawson's philosophy on football.
"Fans like to see the ball more and you see the ball when it's in the air," he said. "You don't see it when you're handing it off. Running the football is a lot easier than throwing it as far as calling the game, because it's safer."
The Mountaineers will throw a lot this season, which includes, to a
responsible degree, caution to the wind. The football is going to be in the air - as new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen's puts it - a crowd-pleasing amount of times.
Dawson began to learn that way when he played for Holgorsen when WVU's offensive coordinator was an assistant at Wingate (N.C.) College. Dawson implemented it on a historic level during his first season as Stephen F. Austin's offensive coordinator.
Under Dawson's orders on Nov. 1, 2008, quarterback Jeremy Moses set NCAA all-division records with 57 completions in 85 attempts.
The Lumberjacks lost, 34-31, in three overtimes at Sam Houston State.
"But if I would have run it every time," Dawson said, "we would have gotten beat in regulation."
Dawson and Holgorsen have won with the run and produced 1,000-yard backs and 2,000-yard backfields, but they were brought up on the pass.
Holgorsen played for Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan and then worked with him at Valdosta State.
Dawson played for Holgorsen and was on Mumme's staff at Southeastern Louisiana and New Mexico State.
Mumme used his prolific pass attack to move up to Kentucky and the Southeastern Conference and coached eventual No. 1 NFL Draft pick Tim Couch. Before all of that, Mumme was a high school coach in Texas and studied how and why BYU was beating teams better than the Cougars.
"What intrigued Coach Mumme was it was obvious BYU didn't have the talent of the people they were playing against, but they were beating them," Dawson said. "He was like, 'How are these guys competing?'
"The bottom line is the pass levels the playing field. Spreading people out minimizes their ability to out-physical you."
The challenge in spring practice for Dawson and the offensive staff is teaching the Mountaineers a new way to play an old game. The previous staff leaned on a mishmash of ideas, but at the base it was an option offense that tried to overload one side of the field and create numerical advantages.
Dawson said there is no difference between the new philosophy and an option philosophy.
"If you look at our philosophy and what an option team is trying to do, they have all their guys lined up - one, two, three, four, five. Well, these three guys in the middle are trying to distribute the ball as much as possible and make it equal so the defense can't focus on one guy.
"That's no different than what we're trying to do. They do it running the option. We do it throwing the football. If we've got five guys who can possess the football and make plays, at the end of the day wouldn't it be great if each one of those guys had 10 catches?"
The question now is if the Mountaineers have the necessary number of players to make it work. The offense is known for producing 100-catch receivers, but no one at WVU has ever caught more than 77 passes in a season.
Brad Starks is the most veteran receiver. He has 65 receptions, but those came in three seasons. Tavon Austin is the leading returning receiver from last year, when he caught 58 passes. Stedman Bailey, J.D. Woods and Ivan McCartney will get their chances, but had a combined 43 receptions in 2010.
How do those numbers go up? The same way Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon went from 19 catches in 2009 before Holgorsen to 111 last year with Holgorsen.
"Throw him the ball more," Dawson said. "Simple as that."
The staff won't complicate things. Players are being put in their positions and being taught what to do. The quarterbacks are being told when and where to throw the ball. That play will find its way to the target, just like it did with Blackmon last year and Michael Crabtree at Texas Tech and different players at other places.
"If you look at the evolution of our offense the last 10 years, Wes Welker caught about 100 two years in a row and he plays the 'H' that Tavon plays," Dawson said. "Crabtree caught over 100. He played the 'Z.' We had two receivers back-to-back who caught over 100 (at Stephen F. Austin) at the 'X.' We had a guy who caught 119 and he played the 'Y.'
"It all depends where a guy lines up. It doesn't necessarily mean we have to put a guy in a certain position because that position gets all the balls. It's funny, but the ball finds the playmaker, regardless of where he lines up."
The success of the offense and the plan are not measured by the leading receiver. When Dawson says someone will catch 100 passes, he intends for a second receiver to catch 80 and a third to be not too far behind.
"Our receivers can't be broken up where one guy gets 100 and the next guy gets 30," he said.
"It's more staggered where one guy get 100, one guy gets 80, one guy gets 65 and two get 40.
"It's better if it's evenly distributed across all the receivers and the running backs. The more evenly it's distributed, the less focus there is on one guy and the better it will be."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.