By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
They did not invent the forward pass in the Big 12.
They simply perfected it.
This has become the nation’s top offensive conference and done so through the air with West Virginia University right there at or near the top in coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense.
During the Big 12 coaches’ conference call Monday, it was noted that this is such a big-play league that eight of the nation’s top 16 big-play teams are in the Big 12.
“We are in a scoring league,” Texas coach Mack Brown noted. “Good defenses give up a lot of points in this league. That’s just the way it is. It’s unique. Everyone in this league can score.”
Well, almost everyone, but you better be able to score if you expect to win.
Brown found that out last year.
“We couldn’t do it in a lot of games last year, and it hurt us,” he noted.
It comes down to doing it through the air, and that’s how Texas got it unwound this past week, scoring 66 points.
“We feel we took a major step forward in our passing game,” said Brown, who rode the arm of sophomore David Ash. “We have to continue to throw it, and we have to throw downfield.”
See, if you can’t throw the ball, you become ... eh, Kansas, a team that really struggles in this part of the game.
“When you feel there’s a talent discrepancy, you have to play more complementary football,” KU coach Charley Weis said. “All offensive coordinators like to sling all over the field. It does not bode well for us to do it that way. The slower we can play the game, the better for us.”
But slowing down a team doesn’t necessarily cut back on its scoring. Look at WVU’s undefeated Mountaineers to figure that out.
WVU is fourth in the nation in scoring with 55.5 points a game, one of seven Big 12 teams in the top 16 in points per game in the country.
Check this out though. WVU is fourth in scoring, 108th in time of possession, having the ball only 25.46 minutes a game. That means they are averaging better than two points for every minute they hold the ball.
Most of it is due to the incredible play of quarterback Geno Smith and his two top receivers, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
Smith is No. 4 in passing rating in the nation and No. 2 in pass efficiency. Leading the way is the man he dueled with in the opener, by the way, Rakeem Cato of Marshall, but does that really matter?
Holgorsen doesn’t think so, saying, “Ultimately, it will be how many games we win is what he’ll be remembered for.”
And if he plays the way he has, it figures there will be a lot of wins, although this week’s Maryland game could be a big test.
“I haven’t personally been around a guy who had those stats that Geno has through the first two games,” Holgorsen said. “Going into Maryland, they are ranked eighth in the nation in total defense. It’s going to get tougher this week. If he can play like that against better competition, yeah, it’s special.”
And as for Bailey and Austin ... well, Bailey is ranked No. 1 in the nation in receiving yards per game at 138.50 and is ranked first in catches per game with 11.00 while Austin is second in the nation in catches per game with 10.50.
It appears that Ash holds the key to the Texas season and that his ability to make plays happen has changed the complexion of the team.
And it didn’t come easily, for he is a true sophomore without much background.
“You go back and look at what happened with him before the season last year,” instructed coach Mack Brown. “He got four snaps in the spring game. He was basically a high school senior in the spring. He was the fourth QB.
“Then we didn’t get him a lot of snaps in the summer. We didn’t get to give him a lot of snaps, only had an option package. It was probably more on us than David last year that we put him out there in front of 100,000 people.”
However, a transfer by one of the quarterbacks gave him a chance this fall, and he took advantage.
“He and Casey McCoy had a great competition through spring and summer. Then he just started doing things right,” said Brown, who gave him the job and does not regret it.
Oklahoma State true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt was injured six plays into the last game, but you could hardly tell as the Cowboys still managed to put up 65 points against the University of Louisiana-Lafayette with another freshman W.J. Walsh running the show.
“We give about 30 percent of the reps to the backup,” coach Mike Gundy said. “We’re unique in that both guys are true freshmen who hadn’t played. The coaching staff was grouping plays for J.W. Now we have to go with them until we get Mike back out there.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.