WVU football: WR wanted to be part of Texas Tech offense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Eric Ward caught 166 passes and 23 touchdowns the past two years, but his biggest and best reception came in December.
Texas Tech hired Kliff Kingsbury as its head coach and Ward decided he didn't need to stay in the NFL draft. The Red Raiders receiver made up his mind to stay in school for his senior season and pursue both a master's degree and the school record for receptions by a receiver.
"I knew the offense was going to be good with him, so that wasn't a part of it - that was the part of it," Ward said. "If you've got a coach that's going to run the ball, me being a receiver, why would I want to go back to school? If we're going to run the ball, that's going to hurt me. I don't want to run the ball. I'm a receiver, right?"
Kingsbury brought his version of the Air Raid offense he coached at Texas A&M and Houston after a brief career as an NFL quarterback followed his time at Texas Tech from 1998-2002. For most of his time as a player, Kingsbury threw passes to receivers coached by Dana Holgorsen, who was a Texas Tech assistant from 2000-07.
Assistants together under Kevin Sumlin at Houston, Holgorsen and Kingsbury reunite in Saturday's game (noon, Fox Sports 1) at Mountaineer Field. No. 16 Texas Tech (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) is No. 3 nationally in passing offense and No. 6 in total offense.
"He coached the Heisman Trophy winner," Ward said of Kingsbury, who was the quarterbacks coach at Texas A&M in 2012 and witnessed Johnny Manziel's ascent. "What's not exciting about that? The offense has been successful everywhere he's been before, so why wouldn't you want to be a part of that?
"I waited on that because why would you make that decision before when you don't know who the coach is going to be? If they'd hired a triple option guy and you asked me if I was coming back to school, I'd be like, 'What?' "
The feedback Ward received from the NFL before April's draft told him he was between a third- and fifth-round pick. The 6-foot, 205-pound Ward has 34 receptions for 404 yards and three touchdowns this season and needs 54 receptions to break Wes Welker's school mark of 259 career catches.
Ward's stats have been thinned slightly as the Red Raiders broaden their offensive options. Jace Amaro, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound inside receiver who caught five passes for 156 yards and a score in last season's 49-14 win against the Mountaineers, has 606 yards on 47 receptions. Jakeem Grant, another inside receiver who is Amaro's complete opposite at 5-6 and 160 pounds, has 30 receptions for 394 yards and three touchdowns.
Ward knew this was coming. He predicted something similar at the Big 12 media days in July.
"Have you ever seen Jace? He's humongous," he said. "Jace and I are going to tear it up. Then you've got Jakeem, who's more of the Tavon Austin character. We're going to surprise a lot of people. We always do at Tech. We're always under the radar.
"We don't care where we're voted. You can quote me on that. We don't care where we're voted. We're going to play football and show people what we can do."
It's happening. Ward caught 13 passes for 150 yards in the season opener, but then just seven combined in the next three games. He has seven catches in each of the last two games. Amaro has caught nine passes in each of the past four games and Grant has 12 receptions for 182 yards the past two games.
Texas Tech's 101 snaps and 34 first downs against Iowa State last week were season highs and the 666 yards and 6.59 yards per snap were the second-highest total. The 251 rushing yards was the second-best total since Holgorsen left the staff after the 2007 season.
"I'm glad that Jakeem had a really great game in the first half and Eric is starting to pick it up again," Amaro said. "Then once the running game gets going, I think they're going to have to put me one-on-one at some point, and they did last week against Iowa State.
"I almost took it 40 yards the first time we had a man-to-man. That's just kind of the way it is and I know that's the way it's going to be."
Kingsbury is trying to involve Grant more in the offense and Grant had all of his five receptions for 90 yards in the first half against the Cyclones, including a short pass that he turned into a 33-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
"It's really going to help us out through the season when they're going to have to guard the fastest guy in the Big 12, in my opinion," Amaro said. "He makes plays that are unbelievable. I've never seen a guy back up and juice somebody at the same time. He's an incredible player and he brings a lot to the table for us."
It's crowded there already. Ten receivers average at least 10.2 yards per catch, eight have at least one touchdown, seven have at least 11 receptions and four have at least 25 catches and 342 yards. The success of Amaro, Ward and Grant overshadows what Bradley Marquez has done outside. He has 25 receptions for 342 yards and a team-high five touchdowns.
It's happened with instability at quarterback, too.
The Red Raiders have started a pair of true freshmen and both Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb have been named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week. Webb won his first career start against Iowa State with 415 yards and three touchdowns passing. The yardage is the highest total by a Big 12 quarterback this season, edging Mayfield's 413 yards in his college debut against SMU.
Kingsbury said Monday that Webb and backup Michael Brewer, the presumed starter in the offseason who has been slowed by a back injury, are healthy and Mayfield will be evaluated through the week.
"Davis is kind of a surgeon as far as studying film," Kingsbury said. "You give a play to him once, and he has it figured out. I think his mentality is really mature for his age. Baker is a playmaker when he goes out there. His ability to extend plays and keep things alive and go off script is going that he's really good at."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com to 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.