Defense Rules Gold-Blue Game
MORGANTOWN – Given the personnel turnover on his offense, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen figured fans wouldn’t recognize who was on the field during Saturday’s annual Gold-Blue Game, won by the Blue (defense), 41-33.
His bigger concern was that fans recognize what they saw.
“After 14 practices and going 75 plays of live football,” Holgorsen said, “you want it to resemble football, which I think it did resemble football, not at a high level, but at least it did look like football.”
Using a scoring system consistent with what he’s used during his first three springs at WVU (regular points for offense, and six points for a touchdown, three points for a drive stop and/or a turnover on defense), the defense won. But even after a historically bad year of stopping the ball, all eyes were on the WVU offense and the quarterback spot, where redshirt freshman Ford Childress and junior Paul Millard are battling it out for the first-string job.
As has been the case since this competition began, neither player soared ahead, though Millard did put up the better numbers (16 of 27 for 185 yards and three touchdowns, compared to 14 of 21 for 169 yards and one touchdown and one interception for Childress).
“Not only are we not ready to name a starting quarterback,” Holgorsen said, “we’re not ready to do that at about 20 other positions.”
He said that won’t likely come until the third week of fall camp, and vowed he would not have a controversy once the season begins. Someone will start. Someone will be the backup.
Others who stood out on offense were receivers Jordan Thompson, who caught six passes for 123 yards for three touchdowns, and Kevin White, a JUCO transfer who caught five passes for 72 yards, including a 46-yard score on a screen.
“(White) is what you’d want a guy to look like,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “He’s a big, fast, physical guy (6-foot-3, 211). His deal, he just needs to be consistent every day. Talented guy, but he needs a lot more reps.”
As far as Thompson’s day, the WVU coaches aren’t reading too much into it. He had a big spring game last season and did little to back that up when the lights came on in the fall.
For that reason, they’d rather not do a lot of commenting on him.
“If I talk about him, he’s going to go thinking he’s got it figured out like he always does,” Dawson said, “I wish everybody would not talk about him and let him be. But he had a good day, I’ll give him that.”
That came after Holgorsen said Thompson would go down in the history books as the greatest spring-game player of all time. Thompson also had a TD catch last spring.
Junior running back Dustin Garrison, who is back at full strength after tearing up a knee his freshman season, had 51 yards on seven carries. Junior College transfer Dreamius Smith had 38 yards on seven attempts. True freshman Wendell Smallwood had 25 yards on seven carries. Those three, combined with junior Andrew Buie, who sat out with a sore hamstring, give Holgorsen some hope.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape there – the best shape we’ve been since I’ve been here,” he said.
The defense did show signs of improvement, particularly when it came to pressuring the quarterback. Though all that was needed, basically, was to get a hand on the QB to record a sack, the defense had six of them.
“There were some good things, obviously,” defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “I thought they executed fairly well, especially our first team, because we basically just played our base scheme and tried to emphasize communication, pressure, running to the football, tackling. Overall, from what I thought I saw on the field, I was very pleased.”
Sean Walters, a redshirt freshman linebacker, had five solo tackles, including a sack. Steubenville’s Shaq Petteway also had five tackles, while Nick Kwiatkoski, and K.J. Dillon had four.
The defense had 11 stops, including a pair of missed field goals and four three-and-outs, and an interception by Travis Bell.
“I’ve said this all spring,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve got a long way to go. It was nice to see a couple guys step up and make some plays offensively and defensively.”
But, he said, and this cautionary comment always comes after the spring game: “The team that we field in September is going to look different. We have so many new guys coming in, and we have so many young guys that are going to continue to develop.”
Madonna graduate Connor Arlia learned Saturday he’s no longer a walk-on as he was awarded a scholarship among many other honors. Not only was he bestowed the Nickolich Award, which is given to a walk-on team member who has distinguished himself through his attitude and work ethic, he, along with Will Clarke, and Isaiah Bruce, received the Iron Mountaineer Award, given annually to the players who test the best at the conclusion of winter conditioning. The winners are selected from three groups (FB/TE/LB/SP; QB/RB/WR/DB; and OL/DL).