QB Geno Smith directs the WVU first team offense on a first-quarter scoring drive during the Mountaineers' Gold-Blue spring game.
If you ask me, I have a feeling WVU's 2012 Gold-Blue spring football game is going to be a microcosm of the upcoming season as a whole. Neither the offense nor the defense is going to be as dominant as people hope, but both are going to do enough good things that the Mountaineers could win quite a few football games this fall. As I said before, it's really hard to evaluate much during spring practice due to the coaches repping certain plays and formations and wanting to see how certain players perform in specific circumstances. Nobody is going out trying to win a game here. But amidst the tailgating and trying to ward off the chilly damp weather, I noticed that the mountaineers have plenty to be happy about and also plenty to work on, just as I had hoped.
On Friday during my preview piece, I discussed several areas I was interested to watch on Saturday. Before we get to those, there are a few things that jumped out at me that I hadn't specifically been looking for. The defense looked to be playing fast and hard---think back to the 2002 and 2005 defenses who just liked to lay the brick on opposing ballcarriers. To me, that means the players are just using their instincts rather than being slowed by thinking. If they can continue to play fast and hard, good things will happen. They may not dominate, but they will create turnovers and make big stops, which is all our offense needs them to do. Guys who jumped out to me were Matt Moro, Isaiah Bruce and Cecil Level, as well as Will Clarke, whose athletic interception of a Paul Millard pass showed how good he can truly be.
On offense, it was frustrating to see how many non-scholarship running backs got to carry the ball. We need Shawne Alston to stay healthy, Dustin Garrison to get healthy, and Roshard Burney and Torry Clayton to get here and provide depth. On the other hand, it was exciting to see the offense open the game uptempo, which allowed it to get the defense on its heels and complete two long touchdown drives. I think that's a huge advantage going into this year, given how comfortable the players are with the system and with each other.
- As for the items I was specifically on the lookout for, I liked what I saw from the receiving corps. True, Ivan McCartney was held out due to injury (he really needs to figure out how to stay on the field), but Jordan Thompson was as good as (actually better than) advertised, Cody Clay looked smooth and was able to use his size to barrel over several defenders after one reception. KJ Myers and Dante Campbell both look like they can contribute, and transfer Terrence Gourdine (from Miramar, FL, of course) showed that he may be able to contribute much like Willie Millhouse did last season. And of course, Tavon Austin showed his patented moves and Stedman Bailey made another ridiculous catch that ended up on SportsCenter's top plays. But the spring game isn't for the veterans, it's for the young guys, and I liked what I saw from them.
- The offensive line was okay. Pass protection looked good when the quarterbacks didn't hold onto the ball too long and allow a coverage sack. But run blocking again appeared to be lacking. Whether that appearance is a result of sub-par running back play (Alston did have 52 yards on 11 carries, which is solid) or poor blocking remains to be seen. If the running game develops, this offense could be special.
- I liked what I saw from the defense, especially the turnovers. If they had been dominated by the offense, I would be worried. As I told a buddy earlier, at least they proved they can stop someobody. And if that somebody is the same offense that put up 70 (ok, 63) on Clemson, then there's some room for optimism. The line looked smallish, and it was hard for me to tell too much difference between the 3-4 and the 3-3-5, but hey, results are results. I'll take a result that gives a much maligned defense some confidence and hopefully inspires a pretty good offense to work hard now that they know they can be stopped.
- As I said before, Jordan Thompson was great. I'm really excited about him. I think he can be a smaller, quicker Jock Sanders. He's no Tavon (who is?), but he can definitely contribute this year and could end up having a very very good career in Morgantown. Karl Joseph got the start on defense, but otherwise didn't stand out to me. And Imarjaye Albury wasn't noteworthy on the line. But I don't think that means that neither will contribute. It's just harder to evaluate guys on defense.
Overall, I'd say I did pretty well on the overall outcome where the offense got its yards (although probably not as many as I expected) while the defense got a few stops as well. Call Jordan Thompson the offensive MVP and probably Isaiah Bruce the defensive MVP.
Now, how many days until fall camp? It can't get here soon enough!