Big 12: Tom Bradley

West Virginia capped its spring drills with the Gold-Blue game on Saturday. Here’s a recap of what happened:

Best offensive performance: The other quarterbacks had their moments, but veteran Paul Millard was the steadiest, completing 14 of 19 passes for 129 yards with no turnovers. Millard also threw a pair of 6-yard touchdown passes, the first to Kevin White, the second to Daikiel Shorts. The West Virginia quarterback derby is far from over. Junior-college transfer Skyler Howard is still grasping the offense and will only get more comfortable. Clint Trickett, the favorite to win the job, will be back shortly after undergoing offseason surgery. Hotshot freshman William Crest will also be joining the team in the summer. But after a shaky 2013 campaign, Millard has plenty to build off from his spring game performance.

Best defensive performance: By all accounts, cornerback Daryl Worley has been tremendous all spring, and Saturday was no different. As he has been in practice, Worley shut down wideout Mario Alford in the spring game, holding him to just two catches for 12 yards. “Daryl Worley has had a phenomenal spring,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Mario’s confidence is a little down right now because he has had to go against him so much.” With Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett and Aaron Colvin all gone, Worley could be a contender to earn All-Big 12 honors in his sophomore season.

Best debut: Last year, Logan Moore toiled as a reserve walk-on wide receiver after transferring in from Fairmont State in 2012. But this spring, Moore was moved back to quarterback, the position he played at Fairmont, and in the spring game, he generated some buzz with his athleticism. Moore completed 10 of 21 attempts for 109 yards, and rushed the ball three times for 38 yards with all the quarterbacks stripped of their no-contact jerseys. Moore still remains a long shot to gain playing time in the fall. But he also turned some heads Saturday.

Notable play: Alford took the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown with a couple of gorgeous cutbacks. "I just saw an opening and took it," Alford said. "We have been working real hard this spring on hitting the gaps.” Alford’s return was a promising sign for the Mountaineers, who ranked last in the Big 12 last year in both kickoff and punt returns.

Developing storyline: West Virginia has long been known as a high-scoring program. But the Mountaineers have rapidly progressed defensively this spring under new coordinator Tony Gibson and first-year assistant Tom Bradley. The defense forced the offense to punt on the first four possessions and was assignment sound throughout the scrimmage. The linebacking corps is deep and experienced, Worley is turning into a star, and safeties K.J. Dillon and Karl Joseph are coming into their own. If the defensive line holds up, which remains the biggest question, the Mountaineers could field their best defense in years.

Biggest question answered: Who knows at this point how exactly carries will be divided among West Virginia’s running backs? But this has become clear -- the Mountaineers figure to feature the deepest stable of running backs in the Big 12. Finally healthy again, Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s leading rusher all the way back in 2011, has enjoyed a renaissance this offseason and rushed for 47 yards in the spring game. Wendell Smallwood, who had 45 yards Saturday, gives the backfield a heavy dose of versatility. Rushel Shell ran for 37 yards in the spring game and has one of the highest ceilings of any back in the league. And none of the above includes Dreamius Smith, who sat out the spring game, but is the front-runner to start. The Mountaineers also welcomed back 2012 leading rusher Andrew Buie during the winter and will welcome in four-star freshman Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. Don’t forget about Cody Clay, who is one of the best run-blocking fullbacks in the league. West Virginia still has several questions coming out of the spring. Running back depth is not one of them.

Quotable: “The first-team defense played excellent. Once we started taking those guys out, that’s when we started moving the ball a little bit. As a head coach, that’s what you want to see.” -- Holgorsen

Big 12's lunch links

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
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Well, I need to recover. That was a crazy first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Congrats to Baylor and Iowa State on their Sweet 16 runs.
In its first month in the Big 12, West Virginia charged into the league with the vigor its musket-toting mascot would toward a black bear.

After striking down Texas on the road, the Mountaineers stormed into October two seasons ago ranked in the top five of the polls.

But since that moment, West Virginia has been fighting a steady, but furious, backpedal. The Mountaineers have lost eight of their past 12 games in the league, culminating with a triple-overtime collapse to Iowa State in Morgantown to cap a bowl-less 2013 season.

Yet, minus several outgoing key performers, playing for a coach whose seat is getting warmer and a brutal slate awaiting them, the Mountaineers have gone into spring ball dead-set on finally proving their mettle in their new league this fall.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Brad Davis/Icon SMIIf Clint Trickett or one of West Virginia's quarterbacks can effectively lead the offense, the Mountaineers have the personnel around them to do damage.
“Absolutely,” said rising senior guard Quinton Spain, who has started in every Big 12 game the Mountaineers have played in.

“We have stuff to prove.”

It’s not difficult to pinpoint where exactly it all went wrong for West Virginia.

In their final season in the Big East in 2011, the Mountaineers punched out nine wins, then punched out Clemson in the Orange Bowl with a convincing 70-33 victory.

West Virginia entered its inaugural Big 12 season with three of the best skill-position talents in the country in quarterback Geno Smith, wideout Stedman Bailey and versatile playmaker Tavon Austin, who all made starts in the NFL as rookies last season.

The Mountaineers, however, trotted out one of the worst defenses in the country by every statistical measure. And when the West Virginia offense finally cooled off after the Texas win, the bottom fell out.

Last season, the defense showed early improvement after coach Dana Holgorsen switched coordinators from Joe DeForest to Keith Patterson. But with its trio of offensive stars gone, the Mountaineers struggled to consistently score points. By the time the offense came around, injuries piled up on the other side of the ball, which crippled the West Virginia defense the final month of the season.

“The record [the past two years] has been unacceptable -- every player on this team knows it,” said cornerback Daryl Worley, who emerged as a starter as a true freshman last season. “We have yet to click as a whole, together. The Big 12 has so many complete teams -- teams known for winning, who are productive on both sides of the ball. We definitely understand that to compete in this league, we can’t just depend on the offense or the defense. Both sides have to be better.”

However, there's reason to believe that the Mountaineers could be better on both sides of the ball and field their most complete team since joining the league.

All-Big 12 running back Charles Sims is out of eligibility. All-conference defensive end Will Clarke and safety Darwin Cook are, too.

The record (the last two years) has been unacceptable -- every player on this team knows it.

-- cornerback Daryl Worley
The bulk of the team, however, is back. And while injuries devastated West Virginia in the short run last season, they also allowed numerous young players to gain valuable experience for the future. The Mountaineers bring back seven starters on each side of the ball and a host of key rotation players. Despite the on-field struggles, West Virginia also inked a banner recruiting class last month, loaded with potential for instant impact.

“We lost some guys, but we were pretty young last year,” Spain said. “I feel like we’ve got more people coming back than ever. So I feel like we could be pretty good.”

That will hinge heavily on the quarterback position, which might not get resolved until the fall. Clint Trickett ended last season as the starter but is out this spring recovering from shoulder surgery that repaired a torn labrum. Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and freshman William Crest, who will arrive on campus in the summer, could make this an intriguing derby.

But if Holgorsen can find his man at quarterback, the rest of the pieces seem to be in place to give the Mountaineers at least a chance of making its third season in the Big 12 the charm.

Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell, who was the nation’s third highest-ranked running back recruit in 2012, headlines a backfield that's as deep as any in the Big 12.

Elsewhere, the entire receiving and linebacking corps are basically back. Spain and veteran Mark Glowinski give the Mountaineers arguably the best one-two punch at guard in the league. Cook is the only departing starter in the secondary, which will welcome a potential future cornerstone at cornerback opposite Worley in incoming freshman Dravon Henry, who signed with West Virginia over Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, among many others.

Off the field, the Mountaineers also made one of the best assistant coaching hires in the Big 12 this cycle, snagging former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who was one of Joe Paterno’s top lieutenants for more than three decades.

Of course, the schedule is completely unforgiving, beginning with a neutral site clash with Alabama in Atlanta. The Mountaineers also have to face Oklahoma and Baylor and have to go to Maryland, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech -- all games they figure to be underdogs in.

But Spain said his teammates are welcoming the challenging slate. What better way for the Mountaineers to finally prove their Big 12 chops?

“Everybody on this team is hungry for real,” Spain said. “We’re ready to prove ourselves.”

Big 12's lunch links

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
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This was hilarious!
Tom Bradley, a longtime assistant under Joe Paterno at Penn State, has agreed to join the staff at West Virginia, the school said Friday.

"I'm excited to be back to coaching again, to be again be part of something that is bigger than myself," Bradley said in a phone interview with ESPN.com.

Bradley, 57, will be the Mountaineers' senior associate head coach.

"Tom brings numerous years of successful college coaching experience and versatility," coach Dana Holgorsen said in a statement. "He is an excellent defensive teacher, has high energy and intensity and gives us a proven recruiter with regional and national ties."

Bradley coached for 33 years under Paterno at Penn State after graduating there in 1979.
After coaching various positions, he eventually replaced Jerry Sandusky as defensive coordinator in 2000. When Sandusky was charged with sexually abusing children, Bradley took over for Paterno as interim head coach in Penn State's last four games in 2011.

He resigned from the school after the season, and has spent the last three years as a football analyst, most recently covering Army football games.

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