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West Virginia Football Spring Game 2016: Offense Preview

This Saturday, the Mountaineers will conclude their spring practice with the annual Gold/Blue Game. The game will be held at the Greenbrier this year. Here are a few things to watch for in the scrimmage on Saturday.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Has Skyler Howard truly improved?

Last year, after taking hold of the starting position, Skyler Howard posted a very mediocre 9-of-22, 121 yard passing performance in the 2015 version of the Blue-Gold game. In Saturday's scrimmage that was open to the media, Skyler completed 10-of-21 for 167 yards. Dating back to the bowl game last year, Skyler completed 28 passes in 51 attempts. Dana has been quoted as saying "He looks like a senior. He looks like a starting senior quarterback to me. Everything makes sense. The signals and communication looks good. His checks are outstanding. You are starting to see timing with the receivers improve." If the timing is improved, it needs to start showing. Former quarterbacks Geno Smith and Clint Trickett were both 65% or better passers in Dana's system. Skyler is now entering his third full year in the system and has an entire junior season to look back on and improve upon.

Can the receivers catch the ball?

While Skyler might not have been the most accurate passer last year, he did his the receivers in the hands many times. Unfortunately, those balls were not caught all the time. Shelton Gibson, Jovon Durante, and even Daikel Shorts dropped catchable passes that could have resulted in first downs and touchdowns. Skyler can improve but he can only improve so much if the receivers are not catching balls they should.

Shelton Gibson made a highlight play earlier this spring with a one-handed catch for a touchdown that prompted WVU to tweet at New York Giants superstar Odell Beckham Jr. The Mountaineers are going to need more plays like that from Gibson and the entire receiving corp this season if they want to take the next step to 10 wins.

Who replaces Wendell Smallwood?

Losing a player early to the NFL Draft is hard on a team, especially when that player was a top performer in the conference. Wendell Smallwood was the most dependable running back on the team and the most versatile. Will WVU be able to replace Smallwood's contributions as a runner, passer, pass blocker and decoy in one player or will it require different players to fill different voids?

Freshman running back Kennedy McKoy has earned high praise from the coaching staff. Running backs coach JaJuan Seider has already stated that McKoy will not be redshirting this fall.

He will not be redshirting, I can tell you that," Seider said. "Kennedy is going to be a kid that’s going to help us."We’re teaching him running back stuff and receiver stuff, the same way we did with Wendell. And that kid gets it. Like normally a kid is ’I don’t know, Coach’ and he’s scratching his head. But instantly he can recite something and go do it. It’s almost like coaching quarterback again with a kid like him."

-Running Backs Coach JaJuan Seider

But do not forget about the other running backs on the team. Rushel Shell returns for his third year as a starter and is looking to make a name for himself. Former four-star recruit Donte Thomas-Williams has been coached hard over the past two years and will look to finally reach his potential. One of the late coups of the recruiting cycle was JUCO National Offensive Player of the Year Justin Crawford.

What does the offense look like?

During the four-game winning streak, West Virginia was a power running team who limited the chances they took passing the ball and controlled the clock. It looked like Dana had switched bodies with former WVU coach Don Nehlen. Dana reverted back to his pass-happy ways against Kansas State and it ultimately bit the Mountaineers as they were upset in the final game of the regular season. Holgorsen's offensive strategy is simplistic in nature. If you put more people in the box than WVU has in the box, WVU plans to pass the ball. If you let WVU have more numbers in the box, WVU plans to run the ball. Holgorsen is not going to beat his head against a brick wall trying to pound the ball if you stack 8 men in the box, but he is willing to take shot after shot after shot downfield. Can he reign in Skyler on the multiple attempts deep? Will WVU be more balanced in their offensive approach in pass and running plays?