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WVU football: Production from wide receivers ‘average’

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia has the Big East's leader in receiving yards per game and two of the league's top four.

The Mountaineers have a receiver ranked second and two tied for third in receptions per game.

No other team in college football has three receivers in the top 50 in yards per game.

It would be easy to say Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Ivan McCartney have been impressive in a passing offense that's going to break a bunch of school records, leads the Big East and ranks No. 4 nationally in Coach Dana Holgorsen's first season.

It would also be inaccurate. The 11th-ranked Mountaineers (5-1, 1-0 Big East) are actually pretty normal.

"We have this notion that this thing is way above average," inside receivers coach Shannon Dawson said.

"The bottom line is, let's get back to reality. Everywhere we've been, this has been the production. We're doing about average for what this system has done, to be honest with you. We need to understand we're not doing anything Superman-like right now. We're on track to have a very good year, but there are a lot of things we're not doing right."

Bailey leads the league with 105.7 receiving yards per game. He'll try to extend his school record with a fifth consecutive 100-yard game when the Mountaineers play at Syracuse (4-2, 0-1) Friday night. Kickoff at the Carrier Dome is 8 p.m. on ESPN.

Austin is second in the league with 94 yards per game and second with 7.0 receptions per game. Bailey is tied for third with 5.7.

Both are on pace to break the school record for receptions and yards in a season.

That doesn't even mention McCartney, who is fourth in the conference with 75.8 yards per game and tied for third with Bailey in receptions per game.

Those three have eight of the team's school-record nine 100-yard games this season.

"Are our numbers good? Yeah. Are they our best work? No, they're not," Dawson said. "We're not talking about a typical offense. We're talking about what we've done through the years. We're having a good year, but I don't think we need to get inflated about how this is the greatest receiving corps ever. The reality is we're not even close to that and if we don't start to do things better, we're going to be beat."

Quarterback Geno Smith, who should break school records for passing yards, touchdowns and total offense this season, had his second 450-yard passing game Oct. 8 against Connecticut. He was 14 yards shy of setting the school record established two games earlier against top-ranked LSU.

It might have happened, according to Dawson, had the receivers not committed errors that cost Smith a lot of yardage. Dawson counted eight dropped passes - and Smith was still 27-for-45. Five of those eight simply bounced off a receiver's facemask.

"It was embarrassing," Dawson said.

Dawson came to WVU after coordinating an identical offense for three years at Stephen F. Austin. He also played quarterback and receiver at Wingate when Holgorsen was the receivers coach. He couldn't remember seeing that many drops in a game. McCartney also lost a fumble at his 39-yard line when he was hit from behind as he tried to run away from the defense.

"What most people look at and say is, 'OK, that game Saturday, he threw for 450 yards,'" Dawson said. "Well, if we don't drop eight balls, we might throw for 700 yards. You've had a lot of guys throw for 400 yards. Have you had a lot of guys throw for 700? No. If you want to get to the supernatural from the really good, you don't drop eight balls. That's my point."

The Mountaineers have lost nine turnovers this season in just three games and receivers have accounted for four of them. In addition to his fumble against the Huskies, McCartney bobbled a ball on the sideline against Maryland and a cornerback caught it. Brad Starks had the ball taken from him against LSU and Austin let a pass bounce off his facemask and to a safety later in the game.

Dawson didn't withhold all praise, but he did tell the receivers they have to do better and that they can be better if they just play consistently.

"Catching a post pattern when nobody is around you, hell, I can go out and do that," he said. "I'm talking about blocking your (backside) off when you're supposed to block, catching the ball when somebody hits you, squeezing the ball on third down, not fumbling it when someone hits you from the back. Things like that are just unacceptable in this offense."

Dawson said the receiving statistics and the 40-point games and the margin of victories "gets their minds fogged up," which is dangerous, especially coming off an open week when the players get away for a few days and can lose a little timing and forget about the details the offense demands.

"Let's not get complacent to the point we let little things slip and look back Sunday when we get beat by somebody we shouldn't get beat by because we gave up three turnovers and dropped 10 balls again," he said.

Syracuse's pass defense ranks No. 112 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams and allows 293 yards per game. Five opponents have completed 24 or more passes and three have completed better than 66 percent of their attempts. Four teams have thrown 300 yards and another had 297. The Orange have allowed 36 pass plays of 15 yards or more and 36 pass plays of 25 yards or more. Only 14 teams have allowed more than the Syracuse's 13 passing touchdowns.

"Sometimes the environment around you - especially when you're 5-1, when you've got receivers catching the ball - makes it easy to think you're the man. 'Hey, I've arrived. This is it.' Well this isn't it," Dawson said. "We need to work on the things we need to get better at. Let's continue to improve. Let's keep in mind that the goal is not to get 1,000 yards receiving. The goal is to go win out, go to a big bowl game and to win it."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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