TD glut: WVU prolific WR Gary Jennings looks to score more

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Wide receiver Gary Jennings had a prolific 2017 season between the end zones for West Virginia with little else to show for it.

Jennings figures his touchdown chances will improve a year after he scored just once despite amassing 97 receptions that ranked him fourth in the Bowl Subdivision.

“Last year was a great season. That’s just how the ball rolls sometimes,” Jennings said. This year, “I’m definitely looking for more ways to get in the end zone.”

Jennings’ 1,096 receiving yards in his first full season as a starter led the Mountaineers and were the sixth most in school history.

The 6-foot-2 Jennings enters his senior season with just four career TDs. His lone touchdown in 2017 came in the season opener against Virginia Tech, when he had 13 catches for 189 yards.

Jennings matched those 13 catches against Kansas State but surpassed 100 yards receiving just three times over the final 12 games. The Mountaineers struggled in their last three games on offense after quarterback Will Grier went down with a broken finger.

Jennings isn’t the type of player to show his frustrations about his lack of scoring. He certainly doesn’t feel that there was a lack of luck on his side, although he has a right to feel that way. Teammate David Sills IV caught 18 TDs a year ago as a junior and was named a second-team all-American, while senior Ka’Raun White had 12 scoring catches.

“That’s just how it happens sometimes,” Jennings said. “I just have to have a little more drive to get in there. I think it’s more from a scheme standpoint just being able to put myself in a better position to score.”

Grier points out that Jennings got tackled inside the 5-yard line “quite a bit.”

“We tell him all the time ‘just find a way to cross that line.’ And he will,” Grier said. “It’s only a matter of timing. He scores in practice. He’ll find a way to get into the end zone in games as well.”

As an inside receiver, Jennings benefited from teams focusing more on White and the 6-4 Sills, especially on third downs when Jennings had a team-high 18 catches, converting 15 of those for first downs.

“Gary was great for us last year. He made very tough catches,” Sills said. “I think we complimented each other very well. We’re pushing each other, trying to get each other better. We’re all happy if there’s a touchdown at the end of the drive. And I’m happy when he’s getting conversions.”

With more receivers in the mix, West Virginia opens the season Sept. 1 against Tennessee in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Mountaineers have added Alabama transfer T.J. Simmons, who played on special teams for the Crimson Tide in 2016 as a freshman.

West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital wants all of his receivers to be able to deliver in the high-scoring Big 12.

“That’s kind of been the ongoing joke around the locker room — Gary has a million catches and one touchdown,” Spavital said Tuesday. “And then yesterday in practice he does a remarkable play and he goes out on the half-yard line.

“That is an emphasis: We need guys to score touchdowns. David Sills has a great ability to find his way into the end zone. We need to find some of those other guys that can go out there and score when they get the ball.”