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Spring game review: West Virginia

4/27/2015

Several newcomers were the story in their debuts as West Virginia held its Gold-Blue spring game on Saturday. The Blue defeated the Gold, 42-10, while some redshirt freshmen and a junior college transfer showed they could be ready to be impact players in the fall. Here’s a look at what happened:

Best offensive performance: The offense, as a whole, struggled yet redshirt freshman Donte Thomas-Williams seized the opportunity to show he’s a guy for Mountaineer fans to keep an eye on. The young running back had 15 carries for 87 yards (5.8 yards per carry) to lead all ball carriers. Thomas-Williams' performance should be encouraging for the Mountaineers, who need Thomas-Williams to provide quality depth behind Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood.

Best defensive performance: Defensive end Larry Jefferson has impressed since arriving on campus as a junior college transfer in January. Coach Dana Holgorsen says Jefferson could be the Mountaineers’ best pass-rusher since Bruce Irvin and Jefferson did nothing to change Holgorsen's mind on Saturday with a pair of sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in his debut. He could be just what the doctor ordered for a WVU defense that is searching for a pass rush.

Best debut: William Crest has fallen behind Skyler Howard in WVU’s quarterback competition but that doesn’t mean Crest is not a big part of Holgorsen’s plans. The redshirt freshman quarterback lined up at receiver during the spring game, finishing with three receptions for 31 yards. He also was the only quarterback to complete more than half of his passes, finishing 3-of-5 for 31 yards. Crest is a exceptional athlete who can make plays as a quarterback, running back or receiver. He should give Holgorsen a versatile playmaking threat in the fall while he continues to grow as a quarterback.

Developing storyline: WVU needs to replace All-Big 12 receiver Kevin White but several playmaking options emerged during the spring. Receiver Shelton Gibson made his case to be considered the best of the bunch, leading the squad with four receptions for 84 yards including a 48-yard connection with Howard. It’s unlikely one receiver can replace White’s production but Gibson looks like he will play a critical role in the offense as a deep threat who will keep defenses honest with his speed.

Biggest question answered: Howard exits the spring as the Mountaineers’ clear No. 1 quarterback despite finishing 9-of-22 for 121 yards. Holgorsen loves how Howard has grown as a quarterback since stepping on campus and his ball protection is one of his biggest assets. With a experienced defense and playmaking options emerging on offense, Howard’s role could be to make sure he doesn’t make mistakes instead of taking unnecessary risks.

Quotable: “He’s one of our better football players. A lot of this is what spring football is all about -- the ability to experiment with different people at different things. I think we would all agree that he’s a pretty good football player, so we’re going to continue to do things and figure out what he does best, whether that’s playing receiver, running back, quarterback, punt returner or kick returner.” -- Holgorsen on Crest’s role in the offense