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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 03 Baylor at West Virginia

Sam James (13) leads WVU 17 receptions, but he’s averaging just 9.4 yards per catch.

West Virginia University needs a “go-to” receiver.

Someone like Marshall’s Broc Thompson.

Not Thompson, per se, of course, but a wide receiver with similar attributes that will translate into obvious chemistry between the wideout and his quarterback.

That’s what Marshall quarterback Grant Wells possesses with Thompson. And yes, that’s what WVU quarterback Jarret Doege needs to find with a Mountaineer wide receiver.

The advantages are glaringly obvious.

On the first play of Marshall’s overwhelming 38-14 victory at Western Kentucky last Saturday, Wells connected with Thompson on a 30-yard strike that sent the Hilltoppers reeling. It set the tone.

That’s precisely what WVU has been missing as the Mountaineers head into a matchup with Kansas at noon Saturday in Morgantown.

It’s as obvious as WVU’s yards-per-catch statistics. Sophomore Sam James leads the Mountaineers with 17 receptions for 160 yards, but that’s an average of only 9.4 yards per catch.

That means WVU isn’t throwing the ball down the field. Granted, part of that is because the Mountaineers’ work-in-progress offensive line is young and hasn’t afforded Doege enough pass protection to throw downfield consistently.

The fact remains, however, that the Mountaineers have to find a way to throw downfield. That deficiency shows in WVU’s statistics.

James’ longest reception in 2020 is for 32 yards. Slot receiver Winston Wright has a 70-yard TD reception, but it came on a short slant pass that the speedster took to the house. Bryce Ford-Wheaton’s longest catch has been for 26 yards. T.J. Simmons has a 41-yard catch to his credit, but he has only four catches in three games.

None of that is good enough to win in the Big 12.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the Mountain State, Marshall’s Wells has thrown such deep completions as 67, 47, 45, 42 and 40 yards. And Thompson? The 6-2, 188-pound sophomore is averaging 16.5 yards per catch on 12 receptions for 198 yards.

Thompson’s status as Marshall’s “go-to” receiver really surfaced in the victory over Western Kentucky. Besides his 30-yard reception on the game’s opening play, Thompson also had a 40-yard catch to set up a TD plunge and a 23-yard reception to set up a 9-yard touchdown run.

He averaged 23.5 yards per catch.

But are those individual stats meaningful to Thompson? Not really.

“I’m a big team guy,” said Thompson. “Whatever the scheme is drawn up for that week, whether we’re going to run the ball 100 times or throw the ball 100 times, whatever my coach asks me to do is what I’m going to do. So if I’m in the playbook or I’m in the scheme for that week to make some big plays, I’m going to try my best to step up and make those plays for my team.”

Which is precisely what Thompson did against WKU.

“The two weeks going into preparation for Western Kentucky,” said Thompson, “our biggest thing was to win those one-on-one battles. That was our biggest key going into the game because we knew they were going to play ‘man’ defense because they do have a tough secondary.

“So we did get excited because that’s what you live for as a receiver — get in those one-on-battles, no help over the top. Just my chess piece vs. your chess piece and just see who’s better.”

Spoken like a true “go-to” receiver.

Meanwhile, Brown is still looking for one.

“I think that, offensively,” said WVU’s second-year head coach, “the last two weeks we have not thrown the football efficient enough to be able to win the games down the stretch here.”

The Mountaineers need a “go-to” receiver like Thompson.

It’s obvious.