By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Stedman Bailey had a breakout season as a sophomore last season in Dana Holgorsen’s wide-open, pass-happy offense.
He’s expecting even better results this season.
“We have a better feel for what needs to be done in this offense,” said Bailey, in a press release. “This is our second year in it, and we just know what coach Holgorsen wants of us and we know what we want out of ourselves.
“It has been pretty easy to pick things up.”
While Tavon Austin got much of the attention last season, and it has continued into the preseason, Bailey was equally as productive, snagging 72 passes for 1,279 yards and 12 touchdowns, while averaging 17.8 yards per catch for the Big East and Orange Bowl champions.
That was in the Big East where the Mountaineers were alone in offensive firepower. Not so in the Big 12, where Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and others display similar firepower that the West Virginia defense will have to contend with this season.
Bailey figures the experience against West Virginia’s weapons each day in practice will only help the Mountaineers on the other side of the ball.
“I think it helps them out a lot, and I think that it helps the team out a lot,” Bailey said. “There is a lot of competition going on out there. You got the (number) one defense going up against the (number) one offense.
“I know that our defense will see a lot of what our offense has to offer in the Big 12. A lot of passing and a lot of up tempo. I feel like that will help them out a lot.”
Facing that challenge each day is fine with West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who expects the defense to try and make plays in practice.
“We expect that. Those guys are out there competing as hard as they can, and we are doing the same,” said Smith, who threw for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. “At times, they are going to get us. We understand that, and we need that in order to learn from it.
“I made a pivotal mistake down in the red zone (during a practice last week). I threw an interception on a play, and that is something I can learn from as well. I am a senior, and we have seniors and we have young guys, and we are all learning the same way.”
While Bailey and Austin — who caught 101 passes for 1,186 yards and eight scores himself last season — and Ivan McCartney (49-585, 3 td) are expected to be the primary targets for Smith, the Mountaineers were looking for depth in camp.
“I have confidence in my whole group. There isn’t one guy that has gone out there and just failed,” West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “You have guys that you want to have step up and be a little more consistent instead of making the same mistakes every day.
“There are probably three that are consistently on the same page with our quarterbacks, and they are the guys that played a lot last year.”
Among those trying to earn playing time is freshman Will Johnson, a 6-foot-6 receiver who found his way to Morgantown from Minnesota. He is expected to play when the season kicks off on Sept. 1 against Marshall.
“It is good to hear,” Johnson said. “I try to not pay too much attention to that and just focus every day on getting better, and I hope that my work pays off for me.”
Austin, one of the top receivers and return threats in the country, knows the youngsters have plenty to learn as the season approaches. He does, however, see some work that such candidates as Johnson, Jordan Thompson and D.J. Myers need to do.
“They come in and they work hard, and they listen for the most part, they are doing what the coaches ask of them to do,” Austin said. “One thing that I ask from them right now probably that they need to pick up their blocking a little bit. For myself too, that is one thing that I see right now that I see they are kind of lacking in.’
Austin added that the whole aspect of the West Virginia offense is to figure out what is going on, and then go out and make plays.
“Just getting used to the system, and getting used to the practice and No. 1, just making plays,” Austin said. “That is what coach Holgorsen’s offense is all about, making plays.
“You make plays, and you just do your part, and you will be okay in this offense.”
—Contact Brian Woodson