One of the most promising signs of balance to emerge from West Virginia's offensive burst in its opener Saturday was in the passing game.
Top wideouts Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey combined for 19 receptions, 3 touchdowns and 157 yards in the Mountaineers' 69-34 rout of Marshall.
But that accounts for less than half of the team's 324 receiving yards, with another 167 coming from five more players.
Senior J.D. Woods had seven receptions for 75 yards, sophomore Andrew Buie had four catches for 31 yards, freshman Jordan Thompson picked up 6 yards on two catches and junior Ivan McCartney -- who fell out of the starting lineup coming into the season -- and redshirt freshman KJ Myers each had a reception.
This coaching staff doesn't define balance as a split between the run game and pass game, so despite glaring statistical balance -- 331 rushing yards to 324 passing yards -- they believe it's more important to spread the ball to as many players as possible.
"I mean if you look at what we do, we want to take what the defense gives," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "It's more that are we running it in the right situations. It could be [split] 50-50 or 80-20. That's the way I look at it. Balance is getting people equal touches, the more you can get the running backs and every receiver touches the less [the defense] can sit there and take away one thing."
Woods had a very strong preseason and came out of camp as one of the team's top stories. He came into the season with just career 25 receptions and left the opener with seven.
"I feel like I can help the team a lot," Woods said. "But it's not just about me. It takes a whole group. The receivers as a group, we have to be stable. We can't just rely on two players. Everybody has to make plays."
Quarterback Geno Smith, who had a remarkable season debut going 32 for 36 for 323 passing yards and four touchdowns, said he has seen all of those players working hard in the preseason.
"J.D. has been working extremely hard. He's improved so much during the offseason. And Ivan, he's going to come into the scene. He's working his way back and KJ made a heck of a catch, so I look for big things out of those guys," said Smith.
Being able to rely on them, he said, is likely to come in especially handy when Austin, one of Division I-A's top playmakers, and Bailey are doubled on coverage in games down the line.
The run game, led by Shawne Alston's 123-yard performance, will also be important.
"We feel like if we can run the ball when they're a weak box and throw the ball when they're a heavy box, then that's what we want," Dawson said. "We don't want to sit there and bang our heads against the wall."
NOTES -- The 69 points West Virginia scored Saturday is the most points the team has scored in a season opener. That topped the 66 points scored in a victory against Richmond in 1958.wvusports
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com or 412-263-1959. First Published September 3, 2012 4:00 AM