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Thin at Receiver, WVU Needs Several Freshmen to Step up Saturday

Cody Nespor

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MORGANTOWN W.Va. — Head Coach Neal Brown announced Tuesday that junior receiver T.J. Simmons is doubtful for Saturday’s game against Texas Tech. Sophomore receiver Sean Ryan, who has not played since the Texas game, will also be out with injury.

Redshirt freshman Sam James has been West Virginia’s number one receiver for much of the year. James leads the Mountaineers in receptions (44), is second in yards (400) and has scored two touchdowns. Simmons is the only other receiver who has caught more than 15 passes this season with 31 and leads the team in yards (409) and touchdowns (four). In four games, Ryan caught 15 passes for 168 yards.

With Simmons and Ryan out and junior Tevin Bush no longer with the team after entering the transfer portal, several freshmen will be forced into action behind James Saturday afternoon.

“It’s a next guy up deal, all year long,” co-offensive coordinator Matt Moore said. “You’ve got to figure out the best four guys to put out there and you’ve got to have a rotation because you can’t leave them out there more than about three of four plays, they just get worn out throwing the ball as much as we are.”

True freshmen Winston Wright and Ali Jennings have already played some this year as well as redshirt freshman Bryce Wheaton. Together, the trio has made 32 receptions for 249 yards and two touchdowns.

Jennings said he never expected to have to play as much as he has.

“When I initially signed here I was just trying to come in and compete just to play,” Jennings said. “I didn’t know I was going to end up play as much as I am or even starting. I just wanted to come in and contribute and help my team.”

Alongside injuries, drops have plagued WVU receiver all season, however, with the young players being affected the most.

“It’s really repetitions,” head coach Neal Brown explained. “When you go about it, some of it’s a confidence issue. I think you solve it through repetitions.”

Brown said they have put a tennis ball machine into the position room and added catching off of a jugs machine to the receivers’ workouts.

“I think you can get better (at catching),” Brown, a receiver in college, said. “I think you can go from average to good, I think you can go bad to average, I don’t think you can necessarily go bad to great.”

Beyond the freshmen, senior George Campbell will also see an increased role on Saturday.

“He’s going to deserve to get some more playing time,” Moore said. “We’ve just got to be really careful about how much we ask him to do, with putting him in at different positions, so he is actually playing a lot more.”

Despite being used primarily on special teams, Campbell is tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions with four. Those four touchdowns have come on only six receptions and 190 yards, including an 83-yard connection against Baylor Thursday night.

 

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Cody is currently a second-year graduate student at West Virginia University studying journalism. His graduate research focuses on the effects newspaper closures have on local communities. He graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2018 with a degree in digital media production. He was born and raised in Mercer, Pennsylvania.

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