Friday, April 11, 2014
Spring game preview: West Virginia
By Max Olson
West Virginia finishes its spring practice schedule with the annual Gold-Blue spring football game this weekend. Here's what you need to know:
When: 1 p.m. ET Saturday
Where: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, W.Va.
What to watch for:
- The quarterback battle: This is Paul Millard's chance to make his case for why he should be West Virginia's starting quarterback. The senior appeared in seven games last season and has earned good reviews so far in spring ball with Clint Trickett sidelined. The challenger here is Skyler Howard, an undersized (6-foot, 200 pounds) passer who showed off a big arm and scrambling ability at the junior college level but had some ups and downs this spring. He's still learning the offense and needs to show progress.
- New-look defense? When Tony Gibson took over as defensive coordinator this offseason, he vowed he wouldn't make too many changes because his players needed continuity. He is, after all, their fourth defensive coordinator in four years. But how does the promoted safeties coach plan to upgrade a WVU defense that ranked 99th in FBS in scoring defense and 101st in total defense last year? Expect to see some 3-3-5 and 3-4 fronts on Saturday and a major emphasis on getting defenders in the backfield. Gibson and Dana Holgorsen want a simplified scheme that lets their defenders play fast, and that concept will be put to the test.
- Meet the rushers: The battle to replace Charles Sims won't be won by just one person; that much seems certain. West Virginia has a stable of running backs who bring intriguing possibilities for this offense, and the Gold-Blue Game should offer a sample of what's to come. Dreamius Smith proved plenty in his debut season last season, but technically he's not even the most experienced back. That would be junior Andrew Buie, an 850-yard rusher in 2012 who took off the fall semester and redshirted last season. Wendell Smallwood and Dustin Garrison can be difference-makers, and Pitt transfer Rushel Shell could be the most talented member of the bunch. Let's see which ones make a statement on Saturday.
- Worley on the rise: One of the best defensive backs whom nobody is talking about in the Big 12 has to be Daryl Worley, who survived playing on an island last season as a freshman. In this league, if you can keep up with these offenses in your rookie season, you've got a bright future. West Virginia coaches have praised Worley as easily one of their best defenders, even as he's been on campus for less than a year, and much will be expected of him in 2014. On a defense that will have to get takeaways to stay competitive, Worley will be a weapon.
- O-line depth: WVU is pretty set at offensive guard, but the tackles are a bit of a question mark. Marquis Lucas and Adam Pankey are the favorites to land those jobs at the moment, and there are several options behind them, but the depth is an issue that will be tested Saturday. All any coach wants from a spring game is zero injuries, and any hits to this offensive line would cause some real problems and more shifting around.