MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — That steady diet of drops by West Virginia wide receivers a year ago is turning into big gains so far this season.
A unit led by Shelton Gibson, Daikiel Shorts and Ka’Raun White had success on their home field this month and will be looking for more Saturday when the Mountaineers (2-0) play BYU (1-2) in Landover, Maryland.
The trio has combined for 89 percent of West Virginia’s receiving yards and four of the team’s five touchdown grabs. Gibson and Shorts are averaging more than 100 yards per game and rank in the top 20 nationally.
They’re working under new wide receivers coach Tyron Carrier. A graduate assistant at Baylor last season, Carrier simply wants more consistency from a unit that hasn’t produced a 1,000-yard season since White’s brother, Kevin, did it in 2014.
Gibson so far has made opponents pay as West Virginia’s main outside threat with a pair of long touchdown grabs. Shorts is quarterback Skyler Howard’s best quick-throw option to the inside and leads the team with 14 catches.
Howard said Shorts is the player he can rely on to get open when the quarterback is forced out of the pocket.
“I know where he’s going to go,” Howard said. “I’m comfortable throwing the ball to him if he’s covered because he’s going to catch it. He might get tackled, but he’s going to catch it.”
White transferred a year ago from the same northeastern Pennsylvania junior college attended by brothers Kevin and Kyzir, who now is a safety for the Mountaineers. Ka’Raun White had a solid game in a Cactus Bowl win over Arizona State and his seven catches in two games this season are already about half of what he had for all of 2015.
While Gibson led the team a year ago with 887 yards on just 37 receptions, he was one of those guilty of multiple drops and had several games of one or no catches.
Gibson has kept the production going in part because he said at times he can anticipate when Howard will throw it deep.
“Skyler gives me that look I already know,” Gibson said. “That’s just the connection we have.”
The receiving corps’ biggest need is getting more production out of the fourth receiver spot. Sophomore Jovon Durante also has a history of multiple dropped passes and has one catch for four yards this season after being moved from the outside.
“He just needs to settle down and let the game come to him,” Holgorsen said.
West Virginia found success with intermediate passes in the season opener because Missouri’s safeties were guarding against the deep pass, but Howard couldn’t find the end zone. Howard threw for five TDs two weeks ago, three of them longer than 50 yards when Youngstown State’s safeties were caught trying to help stop the run.
While Holgorsen said he expects BYU to try to limit West Virginia’s running game, which is averaging 5.1 yards per carry, he also wants the Mountaineers “to have the potential to be able to go downfield when the safeties are down and they’re playing the run.”
BYU defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi simply wants to slow things down for a Mountaineer offense that has averaged 82 plays and 559 yards.
“I think everyone is excited to go after their quarterback, especially the idea of coming up against a high-powered offense,” Kaufusi said. “Let’s see what we can do.”
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org