WVU football: Dynamic duo for Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Ivan McCartney already has figured out his partnership with Tavon Austin. He's even put a label on the collaboration between the two West Virginia football receivers.
"I'm Batman. He's Robin," McCartney said. "We've worked that out."
The duo figure to be the pass-catching superfriends for the Mountaineers in the fall, if for no other reason than that's what they've been through in 11 spring practices. Yet McCartney's categorization might be a little inaccurate, but a lot of good for WVU.
McCartney, who is a sophomore from Florida's Miramar High, can remain Batman, but Austin is Bruce Wayne. He's been unmasked and the opposition knows his capabilities after two seasons and 73 receptions for 938 yards and nine touchdowns.
"When I go out there, a lot of teams haven't seen Ivan yet," said Austin, a junior from Baltimore who last season caught 58 balls for team-high totals of 787 yards and eight scores.
"I know a lot of teams will probably key on me, but that opens up Ivan. As soon as they see Ivan play, they won't be able to double me and that's going to open things up for everyone."
That's the designed danger of first-year coordinator Dana Holgorsen's offense.
The field is spread and filled with receivers to force the defense to dip into its depth and put extra defensive backs onto the field. The scheme also backs away from focusing too much on player.
The personnel expands the space and the routes the receivers run are supposed to go into those areas.
With the 6-foot-3 McCartney on the outside and the 5-9 Austin on the inside, they can work together to get each other open and pressure the defense all over the field.
"The way the offense is set up is a high-low situation," McCartney said. "If Tavon does his part underneath to get me open and I do my part over the top to get him open, it'll work and we'll be open."
Traditionally in Holgorsen's system, one receiver has caught 90 or more passes and earned the attention of the defense, but a second receiver has been able make the most of that situation and catch 70 or so balls also.
Quite often, it's an inside and an outside receiver teaming up to rack up the stats because the duties of the positions give defense problems.
"I just think when it comes down to it now, the defense needs a strong person to play man-to-man on both of us, or they're going to have to play zone the whole game," Austin said. "But the offense is based on what the defense does.
"If they play zone, we've got something for that. If they play man, we've got something for that."
The spring began with expectations Austin might get the ball the most and McCartney might benefit the most, though in his case, much of that was on him. He was a U.S. Army All-American in 2009 and first-team All-State at the 6A level, the top one in Florida high schools.
He was partnered with his high school quarterback, Geno Smith, last season, but caught just one pass for 4 yards. That didn't come until the final game of the regular season.
"Ivan always had good routes in him," Austin said. "He never had a chance to show up until now. Now's his time to show up and he's doing what he has to do."
Again and again this spring, McCartney has found ways to get open and score touchdowns, either on the run or on passes thrown for him to go up and grab.
"There's more than being in the end zone," he said. "There are a lot of things to work on. Blocking, body language, attitude."
Austin has been as steady as expected and that duo, which McCartney said possesses "a whole lot of firepower," stayed intact as Holgorsen made the first noticeable personnel shift.
Outside receiver Brad Starks had shoulder surgery last week that will keep him out for up to 12 weeks. Stedman Bailey was moved from slot receiver, where he was behind Austin and now-former tight end Tyler Urban, and bumped outside and ahead of J.D. Woods, who has yet to display the level of consistency needed to earn Holgorsen's approval.
Holgorsen said he'd identified the team's four best receivers with McCartney and Austin taking the lead.
"Ivan, he stretches the field and runs good routes and he's really good in the red zone because he has great body control," veteran WVU cornerback Keith Tandy said. "He uses his hands to get the cornerback off of him and he can go over top of you to catch the ball on your head, even if you have perfect coverage.
"Tavon is just great in the open field. If he gets in the open field, you've got to hope your teammates are going to be there to help you out."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.