- David Ubben, College Football
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Texas and West Virginia have a pair of quarterbacks leading the nation in passer rating.
That's no big surprise for the Mountaineers' Geno Smith, who earned a nod as the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year without playing a down in his new conference.
But the Longhorns' David Ash? No Big 12 quarterback had worse numbers a year ago, and he ranked last in the Big 12 in passer rating as a true freshman.
Smith and Ash had different stories entering the season, but through four games, they have one big thing in common: They're getting a lot of help from a corps of receivers who have been overshadowed by their quarterbacks' accomplishments.
That, and they'll both be playing Saturday night in Austin, Texas, when West Virginia heads to Texas for its first Big 12 road trip.
"You start looking at all three receivers, Marquise Goodwin, Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley. They’ve helped us so much," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "[Receivers coach] Darrell Wyatt's got them blocking downfield, maybe more than ever before. They're very unselfish."
Shipley hauled in three touchdowns in the Longhorns' 41-36 win over Oklahoma State, but Davis had one of the game's biggest plays, catching a jump ball for 32 yards to set up Joe Bergeron's game-winning, albeit disputed, touchdown run.
Ash said after a 66-point outburst against Ole Miss that he was the "master of the underthrow," but his receivers made him look good, turning questionable accuracy into touchdowns.
Goodwin caught only two passes against the Rebels but turned them into 102 yards and a touchdown. He carried the ball just twice but rushed for 80 yards, highlighted by a 69-yard touchdown run.
"It's been a different guy that seems to get the ball in his hands each week, and they've caught the balls when they're thrown to them," Brown said. "This time last year, I don't think Marquise had even caught a pass. He was just trying to learn the offense. Mike Davis stayed hurt all year, and Jaxon Shipley was a true freshman.
"One of the reasons we're playing better on offense is all three of those receivers have really stepped forward."
"They made a lot of plays last year. You guys didn’t see it because of the different conference and all that, but you're still talking about two returning 1,000-yard receivers who made a lot of plays at a pretty high level," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Year 2 in this system obviously helps, and just the rapport that they've got with Geno is helping as well."
The duo combined to catch 27 passes and make up 518 of Smith's 656 passing yards in last Saturday's 70-63 win over Baylor. Austin leads the nation in receptions per game, and he has topped his previous week's reception totals and receiving yards each week of the season.
Bailey and Austin are No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, nationally in receiving yards per game, behind only Baylor's Terrance Williams.
"The rapport they have with Geno is going a long ways," Holgorsen said. "They've been hanging out together for going on four years now, been playing a whole lot of football now for four years, and Geno and Stedman goes back even further than that."
The former high school teammates have hooked up for 10 of Smith's 20 touchdowns. Smith leads the nation in touchdown passes by four. Bailey's caught three more touchdowns than anybody in the country. Who's No. 2? Well, it just happens to be Austin (tied with USC's Marqise Lee and New Mexico State's Austin Franklin).
"There's a lot of reasons why things are working the way they are. It's always about what have you done lately and all that," Holgorsen said. "In addition to those guys, the O-line is playing tremendous. Joey Madsen’s probably had his best game since he's been here, and he's going on being a four-year starter. We've got some pretty good experience up front, and Year 2 in this system makes everybody a little more comfortable as well."
For Austin and Bailey, it shows. The same is true for Shipley, Goodwin and Davis in Year 2 under new coordinator Bryan Harsin in Austin.
Texas and West Virginia have seen better quarterback play than anybody in the country so far. It's clear, though, that neither has done it alone.