West Virginia’s tandem of wide receivers was very active during the Mountaineers’ season opener against Pittsburgh on Sept. 1.
Along with the Mountaineers receivers who are on the field for special teams, quarterback JT Daniels attempted 40 passes, completing 23 of them to seven different targets, and compiling 214 yards.
The receivers, however, were hampered by six dropped passes and a lost fumble, with the missed catch by Bryce Ford-Wheaton late in the fourth quarter being the one that sticks out the most.
“Bryce played at a high level, being on punt team and receiver,” West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said during Monday’s news conference. “There were a couple balls he had opportunities to make plays on. I hate for him (to be a part of) the play that people remember.”
Less than one minute after Pittsburgh tied the game at 31 in the fourth quarter, Daniels attempted a pass along the sideline to Ford-Wheaton.
The ball deflected off Ford-Wheaton’s hands and fell into the waiting arms of Panthers defensive back MJ Devonshire, who returned the interception 56 yards for a touchdown, giving Pittsburgh the lead, and the eventual win.
“You take a couple plays out, that’s the best he’s played here (at West Virginia),” Brown said of Ford-Wheaton. “The way he’s worked, going back to January up until now, he’s been a different guy as far as work ethic.”
Aside from the late game blemish, Ford-Wheaton turned in a strong performance for the Mountaineers, as Brown’s words showed.
The redshirt junior caught nine passes for a game-high 97 yards and both of Daniels’ touchdowns. Ford-Wheaton caught a jump ball over Pittsburgh defender AJ Woods in the second quarter for the Mountaineers’ first points, and hauled in another score on a back-shoulder fade to open the fourth.
Other West Virginia receivers got into the mix, as Sam James recorded five receptions for 50 yards. Kaden Prather and Reese Smith each caught two passes.
As the Mountaineers’ Week 2 matchup with Kansas approaches, the receiver core will be looking to build again, with Jeremiah Aaron also getting back in action after missing the first game.
“We have plenty of guys in the rotation,” Brown said. “Jeremiah missed some camp time and didn’t play this week due to injury. Cortez (Braham) can give us some more moving forward. We’re going to try and get Sam (James) and KP (Kaden Prather) more opportunities. We have to do a better job getting open.”
Nonetheless, Brown is confident his receivers will turn back to their normal form against Kansas on Saturday, and hopefully grab a win in West Virginia’s Big 12 opener.
“We’ve got enough guys (to make an impact),” Brown said. “We’re talented enough in that room. We just gotta be more consistent making plays, which we believe we will be.”