MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Trey Johnson, Shawne Alston and Tyler Urban scored touchdowns, Tyler Bitancurt kicked a 36-yard field goal, and the defense came up with some big plays during Saturday’s 74-play officiated scrimmage inside Milan Puskar Stadium.
It was the first scrimmage of the spring for the Mountaineers.
“I was very pleased with the scrimmage,” said Coach Bill Stewart. “I felt like the guys really played hard and went after each other in a very positive way. I saw us running to the ball on defense, which I really, really liked, and I thought our offense played with great enthusiasm and mounted some drives.”
Quarterback Geno Smith, playing solely with the ones, led the offense to a pair of touchdowns on short runs by Trey Johnson and Shawne Alston while finishing the afternoon completing 7 of 13 passes for 97 yards in extremely difficult conditions. It rained throughout the afternoon with the wind blowing rain sideways at times.
Freshman Paul Millard worked with the second offense and performed well, particularly early in the scrimmage, completing six of his first seven pass attempts and finishing the afternoon 10 of 18 for 146 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Millard’s touchdown pass of 7 yards came on the final play of the scrimmage to Tyler Urban. Millard was also picked off in the end zone by safety Mike Dorsey, who two plays earlier made a great play to bring down freshman Vernard Roberts for a 5-yard loss on a sweep to the left.
Roberts and Johnson led all ball carriers with 45 yards each, while Ryan Nehlen caught two passes for 62 yards, including a pretty 47-yarder down the far sideline that represented the longest offensive play of the scrimmage.
Ivan McCartney made a 29-yard catch down the far sideline when Keith Tandy misplayed the ball while attempting to go for an interception and J.D. Woods also made a nice sliding catch that gained 28 yards.
“I liked the way we came off the goal line,” said Stewart. “From the minus-35 down (ball placed at the 35 yard line) I thought we did a good job with that; ran the ball well and threw the ball side-to-side pretty good and stretched the defense, and we caught a couple of deep balls.”
West Virginia’s three quarterbacks – Smith, Millard and freshman Brian Athey – combined to complete 18 of 34 passes for 244 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
A total of eight different runners gained 108 yards on 40 carries.
“I thought our backs ran hard and behind their pads,” said Stewart, adding that he thought Tavon Austin had the best day on offense with three catches for 42 yards.
“He got vertically after he made the catches,” said Stewart.
There were seven penalties called during the scrimmage with five of those coming against the offense – three from the No. 1 group. An ineligible man downfield and a holding call wiped out what could have been two big plays for the offense.
“There were a couple of penalties that I did not like, but I liked the way we rallied around each other and guys played very, very hard,” said Stewart.
The practice began with the victory drill (hitting inside cones) and some live special teams. Two field goals were blocked during the kicking portion of practice.Briefly:
- The No. 1 defense included Julian Miller, Bruce Irvin and Jorge Wright up front, Casey Vance, Najee Goode and Doug Rigg at linebacker, Darwin Cook, Terence Garvin and Travis Bell at safeties, and Keith Tandy and Brantwon Bowser at the two corner positions.
“There were some missed tackles in the open field but by and large I thought we tackled pretty well,” said Stewart of his defense. “We had a couple of (forced) fumbles, one recovered by Patrick Miller, had some great goal line plays and saw some outstanding tackling in the open field, and then to close the door Mike Dorsey came up with a nice pick.”
Today’s scrimmage was the first time this spring the defense has really had an extended opportunity to work against the running game. The play breakdown was actually 40-34 run to pass on Saturday.
“I thought our defense really converged on the ball really well,” said Stewart.
- Despite some mishandled balls, one on a field goal attempt and another when Vernard Roberts fumbled near the goal line, Stewart said he was generally pleased with the way his team handled the football in some extremely difficult weather conditions this afternoon.
“I was pleased with the way we concentrated in the weather, the way we competed in the weather and the way we kind of just said, hey, the weather is the weather and let’s just go with it,” said Stewart.
The coach said it was his decision to go outside and practice today, noting that bad weather is something his team will likely encounter this fall.
“I heard an old coach say one time, ‘If you fight in the North Atlantic you train in the North Atlantic’ … Woody Hayes,” said Stewart.
- On his first possession of the scrimmage, Millard marched the second offense from its own 2 all the way down to the goal line where the drive eventually stalled. Then a 25-yard field goal try by Corey Smith was mishandled in the bad weather.
- Millard doesn’t have an overly strong arm but he does have an extremely quick release and he seems to get the football to the right people most of the time. You can tell he’s played in an offense similar to this.
- Vernard Roberts and Trey Johnson both ran the ball well at times. Roberts had the best run of the scrimmage and nearly got into the end zone when he raced 27 yards down the far sideline on a draw play before stepping out at the 1. Then later he also put the ball on the ground inside the red zone when he couldn’t get a good handle on Millard’s handoff. Roberts’ fumble was recovered by Pat Miller.
- West Virginia’s four tackles playing in place of regulars Don Barclay and Jeff Braun performed pretty well this afternoon, considering they had to go up against two of the best pass rushers in the Big East in Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin. Irvin wound up getting to Smith three times, although one of the sacks came on a screen play when the whistle may have been blown prematurely by the official. Had the whistle not been blown the play appeared to be headed for big yardage.
“When you have to block Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller that’s pretty tough; and also we bring a linebacker like Josh Francis or a safety like Mike Dorsey off the edge it’s just so tough to match up a big guy with that little, quick guy,” said Stewart. “But I think the line is progressing and what I like is the way they are competing.
“Nick Kindler (was in the locker room) talking with Bruce Irvin about today’s performance. Bruce is helping him, telling him what he’s seeing, and that, to me, is great,” said Stewart.
- Ivan McCartney couldn’t hold on to a slant pass from Smith that would have been a sure touchdown. Smith put the ball in the right spot to the inside of McCartney and it is a pass that he has been catching this spring.
- Offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen showed how clever he can be, particularly down near the goal line, with some unique formations that had defenders confused at times. One alignment had two fullbacks in the backfield at the same time, making it difficult for the defense to determine which way he was going to run the ball – or if he was going to run it at all. One time he motioned both fullbacks together on one side of the field and then threw the ball to the backside – some pretty clever stuff. You can just see that once he gets the base offense in there is going to be plenty of variety to throw at defenses off those base plays.
- Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel will be made available to the media following Monday’s practice to go over today’s scrimmage after they have had a chance to study the practice tape.Unofficial Scrimmage Statistics:Rushing:
Vernard Roberts 7-45, Johnson 10-45, Hargrett 8-36, Alston 7-26, Austin 1-3, Redd 1- minus 1, Millard 2 – minus 17, Smith 4 – minus 27, Total 40-108.Passing:
Millard 10-18-146-1-1, Smith 7-13-97-0-0, Athey 1-3-1-0-0, Total 18-34-244-1-1.Receiving:
Austin 3-42, Nehlen 2-62, Bailey 2-35, Urban 2-24, Goldblaugh 2-11, Roberts 2-7, McCartney 1-29, Woods 1-28, Hargrett 1-7, White 1-5, Johnson 1-minus 6, Total 18-244.Follow John Antonik on Twitter: @JohnAntonik