Orange Bowl: WVU's Woods excited about playing in bowl
MIAMI SHORES, Fla. - J.D. Woods is majoring in criminology and investigations at West Virginia University, but it doesn't take much probing to figure out why he's starting in the Orange Bowl.
"Coach (Dana) Holgorsen is always preaching to make plays and you'll get a chance, and that's what I tried to do," said Woods, a redshirt junior and home state starter at outside receiver for WVU (9-3) against 14th-ranked Clemson on Wednesday night at Sun Life Stadium.
As recently as the Thanksgiving week heading into the 104th Backyard Brawl against Pitt, even Woods couldn't have predicted how his season would finish.
In fact, Sherlock Holmes with a magnifying glass was needed to check his statistics.
As a backup receiver, Woods entered the final game of the season - at USF - with two receptions for 14 yards. He had played in only six of 11 games, and not at all since an early October triumph over Connecticut.
As it turned out, the 6-foot, 175-pound Naples, Fla., native got the start over Ivan McCartney at Z receiver in the Mountaineers' regular-season finale at USF.
Woods caught four passes for 38 yards, including one each on WVU's game-tying and game-winning drives.
"He only (started) one game, but in that one game he made some pretty big catches," Holgorsen said. "I guess we've got to play in Florida for him to do some good things. The good news is we play in Florida this week. He'll probably have a huge game."
As for McCartney, the first-year WVU coach said the former Miramar High School star "is still in the developmental stage. He's still a young guy who didn't play very much last year, and towards the end of the season didn't do as much as we wanted him to and he's a backup now ... We need him to continue to get better."
Woods, who became WVU's seventh different starter at the four receiver spots, said Sunday that some of his emergence was rooted in resilience, although he admitted that not playing over a four-game stretch (Syracuse, Rutgers, Louisville, Cincinnati) "was very tough, but at same time, you have to overcome that. There are going to be trials and tribulations, but you have to overcome those."
Woods, who started four games at inside receiver last season, did it by opening coaches' eyes in practice. Now, he's starting in a BCS game over a prominent WVU recruit, McCartney, who grew up in the shadows and public-address echoes of Sun Life Stadium.
"He's making plays in practice," said the Mountaineers' outside receivers coach, Daron Roberts. "We always preach the same thing: Make plays in practice and we're going to give you an opportunity to make plays in the game.
"He's done that and he's going to see more snaps in this game and we're expecting big things from him. I think he finally decided he wants to be a playmaker and we're going to give him an opportunity if that's what he wants to do."
Roberts said Woods' performance in what became a Big East Conference title-clinching win - and BCS entry - was impressive.
"All you have is what you put on tape," Roberts said. "As an outside receiver, at some point have you have to win in the vertical passing game. You've got to be able to get on top of corners and safeties and he did that in that (USF) game.
"He came up with some clutch plays when we needed them. I'm excited he's taken the role of a leader and, like I said, as long as you make plays in practice, we're going to give you opportunities to make plays in the game."
Woods, who had 18 receptions for 205 yards and a touchdown last season, admitted he was disappointed in his limited role in an offense that's so keyed to his position.
"I would like to be a very productive player in this offense," said Woods of an Geno Smith-led, air-first attack that has 89 catches from Tavon Austin, 67 from Stedman Bailey and 47 from McCartney.
"This Orange Bowl game will show a lot, and I've just got to stay confident in myself. I know Coach Holgorsen believes in me, so I need to just stay confident and make plays.
"All the confidence came throughout the season, and I became better and better through practice. Coach Holgorsen gave me a shot to make plays, and I made some plays ... Who wouldn't love this offense as a wide receiver? We throw the ball majority of the game and, I always go back to this, it's about making plays when the ball is in the air."
So, Woods is back in Florida, where he made plays a month ago in another NFL stadium in another city. And after coming up big at South Florida, he's in south Florida and is slated to start in WVU's first Orange Bowl date.
"It's a blessing, playing in my home state and all," Woods said, "but I go back to what I keep saying. I've just got to make plays."