Whew. Another weekend, another nail biter. Obviously you'd prefer to win comfortably, but I don't particularly mind us making a habit of it provided we keep winning. Let's get to it.
They're growing up so fast..
I want to say it was in the middle of the 2nd quarter when ESPN flashed a graphic displaying each team's average starting position to that point. If my memory serves, West Virginia's was something like its own 22. Kansas State's? The West Virginia 37. And yet somehow we'd only given up 6 points. That's really all that needs to be said about our defensive performance on Saturday, but I need to gush a little bit more before we move on.
What's most exciting about what we're watching here isn't that they've repeatedly bailed us out of some of the worst situations imaginable, or that they've risen to the occasion and won us games on back-to-back Saturdays, it's that in many cases, these #Dawgs are still very much pups. Even disregarding guys like Adam Shuler and David Long, who are still young in their own right, just look at some the dudes out there making plays over the past few weeks. Reese Donahue and Dylan Tonkery are a pair of second year in-staters. Hakeem Bailey is a first-year JUCO guy. Zeke Rose, Lamont McDougle, and Kenny Robinson are all true freshman. The list goes on. There have been some growing pains this year, no doubt, but it seems like the game is finally starting to slow down for a lot of them and they've been playing with a ton of confidence over the past few weeks. It's going to be a fun group to watch grow up together.
"Tip drills for Dylan"
That's Gibby in the wake of Dylan Tonkery botching his second pick in as many weeks. Against Iowa State we got the ball anyways but managed only a field goal when if Tonkery had caught it he'd have surely walked in for a score, while this week it fell into Kansas State's lap for a 40 yard gain. We can laugh about them both now in the aftermath of two wins and I don't want to ignore how well Tonkery has played for most of this year - he's stepped in and handled himself well beyond what any of us could have expected - but we can't keep letting teams off the hook like that.
Will is hilarious
There's not much I've enjoyed more this year than watching Will casually waltz around the pocket, letting defenders get just close enough to get their hopes up before dancing away to flick a dart to somebody 40 yards downfield. It hasn't exactly been a surprise, because if you followed Will at all you knew he had some athleticism, but we've never had a guy quite like him, somebody who stays that cool under pressure and scrambles looking to throw.
He did it a handful of times Saturday, and while two of them fell harmlessly to the turf (though their intended target was open in both cases), two others played a huge role in our victory. The first, a bomb towards KaRaun that ended up being caught by Gary, set up our second touchdown, while the second was obviously the huge, momentum-swinging hail mary as the first half expired.
I used to hate it when we'd watch Boykin or Mahomes or Mayfield do it to us, and thought their fans were some sadistic mothers for the enjoyment they got at our expense. Now though? I'm cackling like a maniac right along with them.
Don't look now gang, but we're quietly approaching something historic here. With two games remaining we have three receivers in range of 1000 yards. I don't want to be wrong about that never happening before in college football, but I spent a good 20 minutes googling it and could only find lists detailing the five times that it's happened in the NFL. Honestly, it's rare that you see even two guys on the same team over 1000, so either way I think it's safe to say that we're witnessing history here.
David Sills has been the story for most of the season, and rightfully so - his 18 touchdowns are still 7 clear of 2nd place for most nationally. However, all of that attention has created some favorable situations for his equally talented teammates, and Will, being the captain/leader/legend that he is, has taken full advantage.
For example, did you know that Gary Jennings' 82 receptions rank him 4th nationally? Or that he's 13th nationally in yards per game? Did you even know that Gary Jennings has 82 receptions? How about that he's ranked 6th nationally with 40 1st downs? The nicest thing I can say about Gary is that he's been so good this year that we haven't missed Daikiel Shorts, and Shorts was only one of the best possession receivers we've ever had here. Gary has been amazing.
Equally amazing though has been KaRaun White's emergence over the last month. Early on it looked like he might fall short of fulfilling his destiny, but his recent surge has been so exceptional that he now finds himself tied for 4th nationally in touchdowns and 15th in yards per game. Take a look at his progression this season..
September: 4 games, 17 catches, 209 yards, 12.3 YPC, 2 TD
Decent for his first month as a starter, but not overwhelming considering the competition.
October: 4 games, 22 catches, 363 yards, 16.5 YPC, 5 TD
Much more like it!
November: 2 games, 12 catches, 335 yards, 27.9 YPC, 3 TD
Literally Kevin: Part Deux.
He's been unguardable over the past few weeks, and has done an especially fantastic job of recognizing where the space is when the play breaks down and Will starts doing his thang. And it's not even that he just goes deep every time either. There are also plays like the one early in the 3rd quarter where he calmly sat along the sideline against State's Cover 2 and simply waited for Will to find him. That's exactly what we needed from him this year - somebody opposite Sills who could keep defenses honest. It's the symbiotic nature of football at its finest. We're truly lucky to be witnessing what these guys are doing this year.
Second half adjustments!?
Or lack thereof? For the second straight week, the Mountaineers threw up a second half goose egg, while I simply threw up in my mouth.
Iowa State is a little easier to defend than Kansas State. We only had five second half drives and only two ended in punts, with one ending on downs, one ending with an interception in the endzone, and the last one ending with us running out the clock inside their 20. So we were moving the ball, we just weren't scoring.
However, last weekend was brutal. 6 second half possessions, two 3-and-outs, and the only one that didn't end with a punt was us kneeling out the clock on our final drive. Horrendous.
After the game, Spavs mentioned that he simply wanted to stick with the game plan because it was working. It's unfortunate, then, that the other team is allowed to spend halftime looking at what worked and didn't work so that they can try to prevent it from working again. This has been a trend all year, and Spavs' development in this regard over the next few years is going to make or break his tenure here. We know he has it in him, because we've seen our guys turn it around in the second half when things aren't working early, but we need to get better at adding wrinkles throughout the game even when things are going well because there's always the chance that your opponent will figure you out. The mentality that something will keep working simply because it has is not good enough.
It's hard to complain too much about winning a game after turning it over 4 times (catch the damn ball please). We'll take that and run with it. On to Texas.