Mountaineer Gameday: Shorts emerges, gets shot at Maryland
BALTIMORE -- Here's what we know through three uneven games of Daikiel Shorts' career. He's physical for a freshman and for a first-year receiver. He understands defenses and uses what he knows to run good routes and find open space. He likes contact.
Put it all together and you get the sense that the 6-foot, 200-pound Shorts would have made a pretty good safety.
"I think so, if I would have worked at it," he said. "I pursued working as more as a receiver in high school and stopped focusing on defense, but I think I could have been a good one."
That makes Saturday's game against Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium a little more interesting than it already is. WVU has won seven in a row in the series. Maryland is 3-0 for the first time in 12 years.
The Terrapins recruited Shorts, first at Delaware's Red Lion Christian Academy before he played his senior season at Eastern Christian Academy, in Elkton, Md. The Terrapins offered Shorts a scholarship, too.
"They wanted me at safety," he said.
This isn't anywhere near as egregious as former Terrapins Coach Ralph Friedgen offering and then rescinding a scholarship promised to Steve Slaton.
It's not as peculiar as the same coach and the same school watching Owen Schmitt's highlight tape from his one season at a small school in Wisconsin and telling him to go on and become a three-time Division III all-American.
Whether Shorts torments the Terrapins the same as the other two remains to be seen, but the Mountaineers are nevertheless happy he is on their side for the 3:30 p.m. that's televised by ESPNU.
"He's just got a knack for finding open space," redshirt freshman quarterback Ford Childress said. "He's a real physical receiver, too. He's not afraid to get hit. He's a good target."
This is not a secret at WVU. Not inside the locker room. Not among the quarterbacks. When it was Paul Millard starting and finishing the seasonopener against William & Mary, Millard completed seven passes for 63 yards to Shorts.
When Childress got the call to start in last week's victory against Georgia State, he connected with Shorts five times for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
Those touchdown catches deserve an explanation. The first was in the first quarter in a soft spot in the secondary, the sort of place Shorts longs for. Childress arched the ball over one defender and shy of another and Shorts grabbed the ball before taking a hit and tumbling to the turf. In the fourth quarter, Childress sold a playaction fake and spied Ronald Carswell along the left sideline. The Georgia State safety saw it, too, and stayed with WVU's big-play receiver, but left room for Shorts to angle from the left side of the field to the right sideline.
Childress saw it happening and threw to a spot he and Shorts knew to be the destination.
"I knew he'd be there to make a play," Childress said.
Both of those, though, were dwarfed by the play that impressed Coach Dana Holgorsen the most. It wasn't a touchdown. There were no yards after the catch. He simply ran a route in the middle of the field and slid to make a catch, but right as a Georgia State defender went low to pop Shorts.
He was rattled, but he jumped right to his feet. On the sideline, his head coach did, too, and justly awarded Shorts the team's offensive player of the week award.
"It didn't look like I got hit that hard on film, but in the game, that was a pretty big hit," said Shorts, who when he was being recruited had Boise State figuring out if Shorts was a receiver or a defensive back and Temple and North Carolina State talking him into playing safety. "It looked like I got hit pretty hard on the first touchdown, but I didn't really feel that one."
What's really riveting about Shorts is not his performance in the first game or his perseverance in the third, but the disappearance in the second. He caught no passes for no yards and no scores against Oklahoma. He lost his starting spot to junior college transfer Mario Alford.
"He had a bad game and he knew it," Holgorsen said. "He didn't pout. We named Mario the starter and he didn't pout about it. He worked hard and got into position to play."
Shorts said he couldn't wait to watch the loss on film, to witness and to learn from his mistakes. He said he was like so many others that night who were guilty of "leaving plays on the field" in Oklahoma and coming to realize afterward the missed opportunities cost the Mountaineers the game.
"Some of it was just little things, like finding the right hole," he said. "I remember one route when I went too far inside. I should have stayed on the hash. Little things like that are big."
Alford and Shorts are different players, Alford is three inches shorter, 25 pounds lighter and thus better suited for the short stuff inside receivers are asked to do, but also armed with two seasons of junior college experience. Shorts is a bigger complement who can add vertical elements to the passing game.
"If you have a good week of practice, it doesn't matter," Shorts said. "If you're slacking, that definitely does affect your reps and who gets in the game. If you get the hot hand, he'll keep you in. As long as you do your job, you'll rotate in.
"But it's definitely a challenge. I tried to come into practice and work hard and have a better week of practice, and not just last week. I'm trying to get better this week, too. You'll rotate in if you do your job."