Texas will be tested by big-play receivers

AUSTIN, Texas -- For as much publicity as West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is receiving, he’s not racking up these video game-type numbers without someone catching his passes.

The collection of wide receivers he has are about as good a group as one will find anywhere in the country, and it begins with the trio of Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and J.D. Woods.

“They are unbelievable,” said Texas coach Mack Brown. “Two of them are 5-foot-10 and can fly. Woods is 6-foot-1. They’ve caught 19 of the 20 touchdowns.”

Eight of those touchdowns -- yes, eight -- came in last week’s 70-63 victory over Baylor.

Bailey had the game of a lifetime by catching 13 passes for 303 yards and a school record five touchdowns (47, 20, 2, 87 and 39). He played most of the game from the slot as opposed to the outside receiver position he has normally played.

His outrageous performance, which included setting the Big 12 record for most receiving yards in a game only to have Baylor’s Terrance Williams break it in the same game with 314, has pushed his season totals to 41 receptions for 635 yards and an FBS-leading 10 touchdowns. His 158.8 receiving yards per game is second best in the country.

On any other Saturday, Austin’s stat line would have been the highlighted one as he finished with 14 receptions for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He has totaled 48 catches (second most in country) for 560 yards and seven scores (tied for second in FBS) this season. His 140 receiving yards per game are third-best in the country.

“Tavon is a former running back so he runs as a running back runs, which means he is naturally elusive,” said Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “He has probably been hard to tackle his entire life.

“Bailey is more your true wideout, streak-and-go guy. He does a great job of doing the 1-on-1 play a lot. Bailey does a nice job of coming inside and finding the gaps.”

Then there are the lesser talked about contributors such as Woods and Andrew Buie, who can put up numbers with anybody.

Woods hauled in 13 receptions for 114 yards and a score against the Bears to bump his season statistics to 27 receptions for 260 yards and two touchdowns.

Buie, West Virginia’s starting running back, plays a big part in the passing game as well. He didn’t have to against Baylor and only caught one pass for minus-1 yard, in addition to rushing 25 times for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But he’s shown the ability in the passing game this season with has 13 catches for 165 yards.

All of them thrive on the big play. Their touchdown receptions against Baylor averaged 37.3 yards per catch.

That’s an area they will look to exploit in Texas’ defense. Once considered something that didn’t happen to the Longhorns, the big play has suddenly become much more attainable.

They allowed two touchdown passes of 20 yards or more against Oklahoma State, and have surrendered five already in 2012. In 2011, Texas allowed two the entire season, which was tied for fewest in the FBS with LSU and Alabama.

West Virginia, meanwhile, has completed 23 passes of 20-plus yards in its last six games, which is tied for ninth-most in FBS.

“They put an immense amount of stress on [opposing defenses] limiting explosive plays,” Diaz said. “Their quarterback is extremely accurate throwing the ball deep and they have guys that can go get it. It all comes back to explosive football plays.”

Plays that can’t be completed without Smith’s receivers catching the ball.