Defense dominates Blue-Gold Scrimmage

By JIM BUTTA

For The Intelligencer

MORGANTOWN – West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen could have been happier, but the Mountaineers’ fourth-year coach wasn’t completely unsatisfied with what he witnessed on Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium in the team’s annual Gold/Blue Scrimmage.

“Overall, just a couple of quick comments,” Holgorsen said. “I thought we got done what we needed to get done. I thought the tempo was good.

“The first team defense played excellent, so I started to take a lot of those guys out and once we started taking those guys out, offensively, we moved the ball a little bit, which as a coach, is what you want to see.”

Senior wideout Mario Alford got things rolling when the Georgia native took the opening kickoff from Michael Molinari and returned it 99 yards for the first score of the game.

“I just saw an opening and took it,” Alford said. “We have been working real hard this spring on hitting the gaps and I was able to do that and it felt really good to be able to do it in front of these fans.”

A crowd of 10,000 watched the offense, led by quarterbacks Paul Millard, Skylar Howard and Logan Moore, take on the defense during the 93 minute scrimmage that ended spring drills.

“I thought the guys played hard,” Holgorsen said. “It’s been a successful spring. We got somewhere around 850 snaps that we filmed, and we’ll be able to make those cut ups and all summer we’ll be able to make some corrections.”

As has been the case this spring the defense was dominant early.

Millard, who started the first two games of 2013 and played in seven, got the opening nod and was able to move the offense to a first down on back-to-back rushes by Wendell Smallwood. However, the senior failed to connect on two of his first three passing attempts and the unit was forced to punt.

Next up was former-Fairmont State quarterback Logan Moore. The senior was able to move the offense to a pair of first downs, but that drive ended with a 40-yard punt by Molinari.

As would be the case all afternoon with the offense’s rotating quarterback door, Howard would come out next, but the junior college transfer would fair no better than his predecessors.

“We need to get those guys (the wide receivers) the ball a little more,” Holgorsen said. ‘I was a little disappointed with that. Once we get settled on a quarterback, that will help.

“When you’re rotating quarterbacks and you’re playing a bunch of different people, it’s hard to get into a rhythm. So, obviously, that is going to have to be something that we focus on all summer and as quickly as we can in August to let them develop a relationship with all those guys.”

What relationship the trio has made with their receivers began to show itself during the second quarter as Moore led the offense on an 11-play drive that culminated in a 31-yard field goal by Josh Lambert.

Not to be outdone, Howard then took the unit on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with the offense’s first touchdown of the day on a six-yard pass to Daikiel Shorts. Molinari added the extra point and the offense took the lead for good.

Finally, it was Millard’s turn to get the offense into the end zone. The Texas native needed only eight plays, however, to move the unit 75 yards with his six-yard passing going to Kevin White for the score.

The offense would add three more scores – two coming of field goals of 30 and 53 yards by Lambert and the final a one-yard pass from Millard to Elijah Wellman.

“Overall, I was pleased with the way we (the defense) played,” first-year defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “I thought our kids did a great job of running to the ball and making tackles in open space.

“We still have a long way to go and we will be watching a lot of cut outs over the next months to find out where we need to improve.”

Offensively, junior Dustin Garrison led the way on the ground with 47 yards on 10 carries. Smallwood added 45 yards on the same number of attempts while Pitt transfer Rushel Shell chipped in 37 yards on eight carries.

Millard was the top passer, completing 14-of-19 attempts for 129 yards and two scores while Howard was good on 7-of-13 for 70 yards and the touchdown to Shorts. Moore, who chipped in 35 yards rushing on three carries, made good on 10-of-21 passing for 109 yards.

Defensively, Martinsburg native Justin Arndt led the way with seven tackles (four solo) while Nick Kwiatkoski, Dayron Wilson, Ricky Rumph and Isaiah Bruce all chipped in with five.

The unit was unable to force a turnover on the day, but Houstin Syvertson and K.J. Dillon both had sacks while Darrien Howard and Edward Muldrow teamed up for another one.

The team will now take some time off for final exams and will return to action in August to prepare for the team’s opener against Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Saturday, Aug. 30.