MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–The West Virginia University football team closed out its spring football session on Saturday during the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game at the Greenbrier, where the offense defeated the defense 49-46.
The Mountaineers lost several players after last season concluded, leaving many questions, especially on defense. With the spring over, the coaching staff and the fans have a little idea of where WVU stands as a whole.
“It was good to end the spring on a positive note,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “There were some really good things out there on both sides of the ball. We wanted to give Mountaineer Nation a little glimpse as far as what to expect from these guys moving forward. Out team is going to continue to change. It is going to continue to evolve with the addition of new guys, position battles and guys getting healthy.”
Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s game:
1. Quarterbacks-Last season Skyler Howard look brilliant at times but when he faced a solid pass defense team, the Fort Worth, Texas native often struggled. Howard did however put up record-setting numbers in the Mountaineers 43-42 Cactus Bowl victory against Arizona State. Holgorsen has praised Howard all spring for his improvements. He is connecting with his receivers and looks like a senior quarterback should. During Saturday’s game, Howard completed 18-of-26 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. He threw just one interception. Howard looked comfortable in the pocket and had plenty of time to complete passes.
Even the backup quarterbacks showed glimpses of brilliance. Four quarterbacks completed 32-of-49 passes for 433 yards and seven touchdowns. True freshman Cody Saunders completed six of seven pass attempts for 92 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions. Redshirt sophomore William Crest struggled in his two series at quarterback but turned it on later in the game. He threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to true freshman Marcus Simms and Crest also had a beautiful 47-yard pass to Simms that was called back due to offensive pass interference. Sophomore David Sills concluded the scrimmage with a 34-yard game-winning touchdown to Ricky Rogers.
2. Offensive line-The offensive line struggled last season with pass protection. When Holgorsen brought Joe Wickline on over the winter, he was hoping to improve that and WVU’s line looked sharp on Saturday. The line gave Howard time to complete passes and seemed to put what they have been learning together. The Mountaineers’ line was the key component for the offense’s passing success.
“The offensive line has come together,” Howard said. “They’ve been working their tails off, and it showed today. I could sit back there and really go through my reads and understand what’s going on in the back end to just deliver the ball.”
3.Wide receivers- WVU coaches hoped the wideouts and quarterbacks would develop a connection with each other. That seemed to resonate on Saturday. The Mountaineers’ passing attack was a success.
Daikiel Shorts paved the way with five catches totaling 86 yards. Sophomore Gary Jennings had four catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. Shelton Gibson recorded 59 yards on four catches and a touchdown. Simms played most of the second half and shined. He caught five passes for 59 yards and scored two touchdowns. Rogers, Sills and Elijah Wellman all caught touchdown passes as well. Ka’Raun White did not play due to a shoulder injury.
4. Running backs-WVU’s ground game excelled on Saturday, recording 294 yards on 50 attempts. True freshman running back Kennedy McKoy shined in the scrimmage. His 30-yard run was the longest of the day. Russell Shell ran nine times for 50 yards. Crest was the leading ball carrier with 89 yards and 12 attempts. Neither Shell nor McKoy had a negative-yardage play.
5. Safeties and Corners- The secondary was probably the weakest spot of the defense on Saturday. Shane Commodore had two interceptions and Antonio Crawford had a pick-six but otherwise the defense struggled down field struggling with man-to-man coverage.
“That was a really good play,” Gibson said of Crawford’so interception. “Broke well on the ball. That’s huge. I’m happy with that, but we’re nowhere near being close to being game ready at this point.”
The secondary was the hardest hit position in terms of players lost after last season with Dravon Askew-Henry being the only returning starter. Askew-Henry has really improved in coverage this spring and will be the cornerstone of the new secondary. As the secondary gets more experience, they should begin to improve. If the secondary can’t figure it out, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will have some adjustments to make.