BOCA RATON – Electric and unpredictable as he scoots across the football field with the ball in his hands, wide receiver Willie Wright has yet to demonstrate this season the big play ability that made him a threat in 2017.
Wright, however, doesn’t expect to remain quiet for much longer.
“It will start picking up later on this year,” Wright said.
As a freshman last season, Wright wasted little time showing what kind of a weapon he can be, catching a 95-yard touchdown against Navy in his first career game.
By the time the Owls blew out Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl, Wright amassed 56 receptions for 657 yards, both tops among Owls.
He averaged 11.7 yards per catch last season, but that’s dropped to 9.68 this year, fourth best among Owls’ starting pass catchers. Where Wright could frequently be counted on for explosive plays of 20 yards or better through the air, this season his longest reception only covered 27 yards.
Through the first six games most of Wright’s 25 receptions have come on jet sweeps, where the ball is pitched forward only a couple of feet, or on short tosses behind or near the line of scrimmage. Such passes have a tendency to decrease a wideout’s yards per reception because there are so many defenders near the receiver when he catches the ball.
But that was also the case last season, and Wright still managed to catch his share of downfield balls.
Wright’s doesn’t believe last year’s breakout season, which earned him a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman team, prompted opponents to pay extra attention to him in particular as they try to stop the Owls.
“Not really,” Wright said. “There’s a target really on the whole team’s back because we blew a lot of teams out, we beat a lot of teams, so I think they are really focused on the whole team, not key players.”
Wright only caught two touchdowns during the first half of this season, but if last year is any indication he might be primed for some trips to the end zone in the coming weeks.
In 2017 four of his six touchdowns came in the season’s second half, including the postseason – highlighted by a 69-yarder against North Texas and a 41-yarder against Charlotte.
FAU coach Lane Kiffin says it’s not as though the Owls haven’t looked deep for Wright this season, citing an early incompletion early against Old Dominion in FAU’s most recent game and a play against UCF where the Knights sacked Chris Robison before the QB could release the ball.
Since catching six passes for 75 yards against Air Force in the season’s second game, Wright has amassed more than 50 receiving yards in a game only once.
“I’m sure he’ll end up with a lot better numbers than the last couple weeks,” Kiffin said.
Along with Robison taking over for the departed Jason Driskel at quarterback, one big difference from last season is that, in Jovon Durante, the Owls have a second credible speedster and deep threat on the field. It’s Durante, not Wright, who’s delivered the explosive catches this season.
Though the explosions haven’t been all that powerful. The Owls as a team have yet to complete a pass that covered 50 yards or more this season.
Durante, however, expects those big catches will come, and both he and Wright will have opportunities to make plays.
“Having a speedster like Willie and a speedster like me, having both of (us) on the field at the same time, it’s dangerous,” Durante said. “You don’t know who to eye. Having us on the field, that’s a mismatch for everybody. Basically, that’s a win-win situation for us.”
Wright says he’s been spending extra time after practices working with quarterbacks on their timing and believes that extra work should convert those downfield misses into big hits.
“In practice, just practicing catching the ball down the field, getting open for the quarterback, catching the 50-50 ball, but it all starts in practice working with the quarterback,” Wright said.