Chip Shots

by Jim Buzzerd

Gary Jennings

When Gary Jennings signed with West Virginia University to play football following his senior year at Stafford, Virginia’s Colonial Forge High School in 2014 he was considered a very good signee. And he hasn’t been a disappointment as a wide receiver in his first three seasons as a Mountaineer. As Jennings enters his final season in Morgantown some will tell you he is the best receiver on the squad. Others will point to David Sills’ 18 touchdown receptions last season and subsequent All American status and make a case for Sills being the better receiver.

It’s no secret to anyone watching that the chemistry between quarterback Will Grier and Sills was remarkable last season. What seems even more remarkable is that Jennings had just one touchdown catch all season and that was in the season opener against Virginia Tech. So while Sills was catching an incredible number of touchdown passes, Jennings was, relatively quietly, leading the team with receptions and total yards.

For comparison, Sills caught 60 passes for 980 yards and Jennings snagged 97 balls for 1,096 yards. While coming up way short on touchdowns, there are some numbers that point to his value to the team. While going 87 straight receptions without a score, 49 (one more than half) of his catches were good for first downs. Of 18 catches Jennings made on third down, 15 were good for a first down. Jennings’ value as a receiver is clearly evident; he just didn’t get the touchdowns.

Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital says Sills has a knack of finding the end zone. That may be true, but it doesn’t really explain why Jennings wasn’t targeted more in the red zone where he had just eight catches; four for first downs, thank you very much.
I’m not suggesting a conspiracy or anything like it. I think both Sills’ and Jennings’ touchdown totals are an anomaly and the gap between the two in the upcoming season will be smaller. Sills will likely receive more attention from opposing defenses, which will open things up not only for Jennings, but also deep threat Marcus Simms and Alabama transfer T.J. Simmons.

When approached about the touchdown discrepancy Jennings deflects it saying, “I don’t really pay attention to anything like that.”
Everything out there on Jennings suggests he is the consummate team player, but one has to wonder if he wouldn’t mind hauling in a few more touchdown catches. “It’s part of the job, but they’re working on ways to get me deep as well,” Jennings said. “Everything we do has its perks.”

At least two publications/analysts have taken notice of Jennings’ abilities. Lindy’s ranks him as the 15th wide receiver nationally and Best Hands in the Big 12. Phil Steele has Jennings ranked as the 24th wide receiver.