Heartbeat of the Heartland: David Sills Thriving at West Virginia

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Those few hardy souls who are addicted to every recruiting story are familiar with the back story of West Virginia’s David Sills V. The vast majority of fans who are only aware of the here and now might know that Sims leads FBS in touchdown catches with 12.

His back story, known to those hardy souls, is fascinating.

At the age of 10, Sills began working with quarterback guru Steve Clarkson who was stunned by the youngster’s ability at an early age. When Sills was 13, Clarkson showed Lane Kiffin, who had just left Tennessee for USC, a Youtube video of Sills working out. Kiffin, like Clarkson, was wowed.

Kiffin, who has always been a news maker, decided to offer Sills a scholarship. During his visits to work out with Clarkson in Southern California, Sills had become smitten with USC. The seventh grader committed to the Trojans.

Then the news and all hell broke loose. Kiffin was vilified for offering a player in junior high. Sills then flamed out in high school, broke his ankle and didn’t play his senior season. USC changed coaches and Steve Sarkisian made it clear he was committed to a high school quarterback named Sam Darnold.

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen stepped in and offered Sills a scholarship and he was in Morgantown in 2015 as a redshirt QB. Asked to work on the scout team to mimic a big opposing receiver, the 6-foot-4 Sills was a nightmare for defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. Midway through the season, Sims burned his redshirt and caught two passes, including a TD, at Baylor.

Bugged by the quarterback itch, Sills wanted to pursue his dream. He left West Virginia for El Camino College in Torrance, Calif. – just down the road from USC. In 2016, Sills played 10 games at QB, throwing for 15 TDs and more than 1,600 yards. But there were no offers from any FBS schools.

Holgorsen again made his pitch and asked Sills to return to the Mountaineers to play wide receiver. In six games, Sills has 39 catches for 601 yards. His 12 touchdown receptions is tops in FBS and twice as many as any other Big 12 receiver.

“He thinks he’s the baddest dude on the field,” Holgorsen said. “His mentality is they can’t guard me, they can’t cover me.”

Junior Will Grier, like Sills a bit of a wayward soul, transferred from Florida and took over as West Virginia’s starter this season. His 21 touchdowns is tied for first in FBS and he’s averaging 349 yards passing per game.

“Will’s football IQ is incredibly high,” Holgorsen said on this week’s Big 12 coaches’ teleconference. “His accuracy stands out to me. Game after game after game, the ball is right where it needs to be about 90 percent of time. He’s consistently accurate and I don’t know if I’ve seen a guy as accurate as Will.”

In addition to Sills, the Mountaineers have three other strong, powerful and speedy receivers in Ka’Raun White (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), Gary Jennings Jr. (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) and Marcus Simms (6-foot, 195 pounds).

“We’ve got some big, physical receivers,” Grier said after Saturday’s come-from-behind victory over Texas Tech in Morgantown.

Once Grier and the Mountaineers’ passing game got in rhythm, Texas Tech’s secondary was overmatched as Grier threw four TD passes in a 29-0 run over the final 20 minutes.

The Red Raiders were flagged for five pass interference penalties, including three on one drive. In the previous game, a 31-24 loss at TCU, the Horned Frogs’ defensive backs were called for four DPIs and one holding penalty. Of course, West Virginia fans will forever claim the officials missed a DPI or a hold on Sims on a key late-game incompletion.

What all this means is that the Mountaineers, who have two losses each by seven points, have a top-notch quarterback throwing to receivers who are coverage challenges.

“Will just gives us shots as receivers,” said Sills, who has also caught a pair of two-point extra point passes. “He has a lot of confidence in us.”

Over the last half of the season, keeping track of how many touchdown passes Grier throws to Sills will be worthwhile. The current quarterback has bonded with the ex-QB turned receiver.

“It’s the most interesting and impressive story I’ve ever been a part of,” Grier told Jake Trotter of ESPN.com. “It’s absolutely insane, and I love it. There’s going to be a 30 for 30 on him someday.”

It’s not just a river in Egypt

You won’t find many coaches who are as unwavering in their optimism that Kansas coach David Beaty. But that sunshine pump often appears to be fueled by denial. For instance, after Saturday’s 45-0 loss at Iowa State, claimed it was “by far” his team’s best defensive performance.

“The thing about it, we give up 45 points. I look up at one point it’s (24-0) and we’d given up 123 yards,” Beaty said. “I stepped in the huddle with our guys and I told them, I said, ‘Look, I know what the scoreboard says. But you’re playing good defense. Just keep playing, man. We just can’t give up big plays.’”

If the defensive effort was a step forward, the offense and special teams were stuck in reverse. After forcing a three-and-out on the Cyclones’ first possession, a fumbled punt helped Iowa State take a 7-0 lead. Then KU punted on its next possession and the Cyclones’ Trever Ryen housed it from 68 yards. Later in the game, the Jayhawks’ punter fumbled a perfect snap, setting up Iowa State’s final TD of the first half.

The offense was a no-show. Kansas finished with 106 total yards, five first downs and went three-and-out on 11 of their 18 possessions. Junior quarterback Peyton Bender was 8-of-19 for 18 yards. The previous week, Beaty yanked Bender in favor of Carter Stanley. Since 2010, Beaty is the third KU coach who has played musical chairs at QB.

“I see enough, when I watch the tape, I see enough for me to be encouraged to where we can play football in this league, and we can do it and be able to win games,” Beaty said. “I know we can.”

Maybe so. But Kansas is 1-5 and the only hope for a victory will be Nov. 4 against Baylor. Midway through his third season, Beaty’s record is 3-27 and eight times in 20 Big 12 losses the Jayhawks have lost by 42 or more points.

For reasons that defy logic, Fox selected Saturday’s Kansas-TCU game for prime-time. Barring an upset on the level of Iowa State over Oklahoma, the Jayhawks will lose their 44th consecutive road game. According to College Football Reference, the college record for consecutive road losses is 44 by Western (Colo.) State between 1926 and 1936.

Notable nuggets

  • TCU coach Gary Patterson can plenty of logs to fuel his team’s underdog fire. A Dallas columnist wrote that Oklahoma’s victory over Texas kept the Big 12’s College Football Playoffs hopes alive. And Bill Connelly’s S&P rankings for SBNation.com has the undefeated Frogs ranked 13th. Oklahoma State, a team TCU defeated in Stillwater, is ranked fourth and Oklahoma is No. 8. Connelly’s explanation for the Frogs being nine spots behind the Cowboys: “The turnovers’ randomness determined the game,” Connelly said on his weekly podcast. “Otherwise it was an even game.”
  • TCU senior quarterback Kenny Hill is a big reason why the Frogs are undefeated. He is completing 69.8 percent of his passes and has thrown for 10 touchdowns with just three interceptions. That’s the second-fewest in the Big 12 and he has not thrown a pick in his last 75 attempts. Last season he led the league in interceptions.
  • Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield completed all six of his passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield against Texas. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that’s tied for the most such completions in an FBS game this season.

    Mayfield leads FBS in completion percentage (72.7) and passing efficiency (207.3). Last season he set the NCAA single-season record for passing efficiency of 196.38.

  • According to Pro Football Focus, Oklahoma freshman running back Trey Sermon is the most-elusive running back in the Big 12. On 90 touches, he has forced 33 missed tackles for an elusiveness rating of 150.8. Sermon leads the Sooners with 469 yards rushing.
  • Iowa State made like the ’85 Chicago Bears (OK, granted, the Cyclones were playing Kansas). The 45-0 victory over the Jayhawks was the fourth shutout of a Big 12 opponent (41-0 Baylor, 2001; 34-0 Kansas, 2013; 24-0 Texas, 2015). Iowa State limited KU to 106 yards in total offense, the fewest by a league foe since Missouri had just 59 in 1963.
  • The Big 12 has three teams ranked in the top 10 of The Associated Press poll for the first time since Nov. 22, 2015. TCU is No. 4, Oklahoma is No. 9 and Oklahoma State is No. 10.
  • Oklahoma State senior wide receiver James Washington has 12 receptions of 30-plus yards, the most in FBS. He padded that stat Saturday against Baylor when he had four catches of 40-plus yards. He finished with six catches for 235 yards. He and teammate Marcell Atemen each have four consecutive 100-yard receiving games.

They said it

Texas Tech faces Iowa State and quarterback turned linebacker Joel Lanning. Red Raiders coach and former QB Kliff Kingsbury was asked if he could have played linebacker in college:

“I would have just been a fraternity guy because I wouldn’t have done that.”

Headed up the tunnel at the Cotton Bowl, Oklahoma fans chanted “Texas sucks” and Longhorns freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger responded by waving the “hook ‘em Horns” hand signal:

“The atmosphere was incredible. Losing the game is not incredible. I’m looking forward to the next three years.”

Iowa State is second in the Big 12 in total defense thanks to a scheme that morphs between three-man and four-man fronts. Cyclones coach Matt Campbell:

“In today’s world, playing these offenses and playing offenses across the spectrum, you have to be multiple. If you just sit in one thing, it’s really hard for you to have success on the defense side of the ball. I think (having different schemes) really allows you to have some multiplicity in what you want to do defensively.”