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West Virginia spring game: Three things to watch

West Virginia will hold its spring game at noon (ET) on Saturday at The Greenbrier Sports Performance Center in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The Mountaineers have to rebuild their defense and running game after some key departures but have hope Skyler Howard can continue to perform like he did during the final game of the 2015 season. Here are three things to watch during West Virginia's Gold-Blue spring game on Saturday.

Can Skyler Howard build upon his MVP performance in the bowl game?

The Mountaineers quarterback set career highs with 532 passing yards and five touchdowns during a 43-42 win over Arizona State in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl. Howard needs to use that game as a springboard to finish his college career with a bang. His first full year as a starter included 3,145 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a 55.3 total QBR. But he could see his importance expand in 2016 without the Big 12’s leading rusher lining up alongside him with Wendell Smallwood's decision to leave for the NFL a year early.

How will the defense look?

Slowly but surely, Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen has been building the overall depth of West Virginia’s roster. During the program’s debut season in the Big 12, Holgorsen was forced to turn to a bunch of freshmen and underclassmen to step into the lineup after departures on the defensive side of the ball. This time around, West Virginia has several juniors and seniors who served as understudies poised to step into the starting lineup. Yet those players remain inexperienced, so a strong spring-game showing could help ease some concerns surrounding the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton, safety Jeremy Tyler and cornerback Rasul Douglas are among the relatively new names to keep an eye on for the Mountaineers.

Will the Mountaineers' running game remain among the Big 12’s best?

West Virginia ranked second in the Big 12 with 228.2 rushing yards per game a year ago, with Smallwood ending the season as the conference’s top rusher (1,519 rushing yards). But Smallwood is NFL-bound, leaving Rushel Shell to shoulder the burden as the primary ball carrier after rushing for 708 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior. Shell is a proven playmaker so the big question could be who will become the complementary back in the fall. Early-enrollee freshman Kennedy McKoy is already impressing, with the coaching staff already making him part of the plan for 2016. A good debut for the true freshman and a solid day from Shell would be a beautiful sight for Holgorsen and the Mountaineers.