Spring Practice Notebook: Day 6

The battle between the Mountaineers' offense and defense may have come to a stalemate on Saturday, but that doesn't mean there was any lack of explosive plays on either side of the line of scrimmage.

The following is a collection of notes from the WVU football team's Saturday afternoon practice in full pads:

  • Once the team went to 11-on-11 work, the offense wasted little time in gaining the upper hand.

    Its first play was a bomb from Geno Smith to J.D. Woods, who got behind the defense and ran in easily for a 65-yard touchdown. The progress didn't stop there, as all told, five of the first six plays from scrimmage went for 10 yards or more.

    It looked as though the seventh play was destined for similar success. The offense lined up in a "diamond" formation with three running backs surrounding Smith in the backfield (one to either side and one behind the quarterback). Smith handed off to Shawne Alston, who flipped the ball back to Smith for a flea flicker.

    Receiver Brad Starks had worked his way open near the far sideline, but Smith failed to see him and instead forced a pass to the opposite side that was intercepted by cornerback Avery Williams.

    That play seemed to settle the defense down, and a stalemate of sorts ensued.

  • That's not to say each side didn't have its moments the rest of the way.

    The offense continued to find ways to gain moderate chunks of yards.

    Stedman Bailey caught a pair of Smith passes for about 15 yards each. Coley White grabbed a Paul Millard pass for 10 more. Bailey took a reverse and gained 10-15 yards. Tyler Urban got in the act, catching a Smith pass between the hashes for around 20.

    Alston, getting his most significant action of the spring thus far, also had his moments. He made multiple tough runs up the middle, gaining 10-15 yards on one play and about eight on another.

    But beyond those plays, the defense wasn't yielding much after the offense's quick start. Bruce Irvin easily would have had two sacks of Smith -- and any one of the three defensive linemen could have been credited with a third.

    On Irvin's second "sack" he didn't even run towards Smith when he could have. He shed his blocker and ran around Smith's back, all the way to the other side of the field. When Smith dumped the ball off for a short gain, Irvin was in on the tackle -- some 20-25 yards away from where he lined up for the snap.

    The defense also dominated in short yardage.

    Ryan Clarke fumbled yet again (a trend Dana Holgorsen noted in his post-practice talk with the media) on a third-and-1 play, allowing Irvin to scoop up the ball and run back for what perhaps would have been a 45-yard return for a touchdown.

    Trey Johnson got stuffed on an earlier third-and-1 play. Johnson was again met in the backfield on a subsequent snap, a draw play that resulted in a loss of 2-3 yards. The running back did make a nice play on a third-and-9, taking a screen pass and keeping his feet while absorbing a couple of big hits and making it to the sticks for a first down.

  • Daquan Hargrett, the star of the running backs thus far in spring practice, received far less work Saturday than the media had seen him get on any other day.

    That may be because coaches have been satisfied with what they have seen from him and wanted to give others in the crowded backfield battle a chance to show what they could do.

    Alston was impressive in his stead, and Matt Lindamood and Ricky Kovatch both earned praise from Holgorsen for their work in drills thus far.

  • When reporters arrived to watch the portion of practice they were allowed to see, players were still in position-by-position drills, meaning there was less "live" action to see Saturday than there has been throughout the earlier sessions this spring.

    Still, West Virginia ran about 50 plays of 11-on-11, something Holgorsen emphasized will be important, as he and his assistant coaches will study the film from these practices all summer long to better learn the strengths and weaknesses of the offensive players.

  • While Holgorsen said few of his receivers have been consistently good in practice (singling out Urban as perhaps the lone exception), there are players further down the depth chart at that position stepping up to make occasional plays.

    Ryan Nehlen was among those players Saturday, snaring a couple of tough balls near the sidelines and holding on despite taking a big hit on one of those plays. He could vie for playing time as part of the second tier of receivers come fall.

  • Speaking of Urban, that 20-yard catch he had in 11-on-11 drills was one of the more impressive plays of the day -- and showed why Holgorsen has liked what he has seen out of the converted tight end thus far.

    Smith's pass was well behind Urban, but the receiver made a nice adjustment to lean his body back and somehow pull in the football regardless. Urban has been the closest thing WVU has had to a sure thing at receiver thus far -- he just has not dropped many balls, and his route-running ability has also been impressive.

  • When discussing the defense, it's hard to not fawn over Irvin. He has been spectacular thus far -- an almost unstoppable force at times.

    But others deserve some praise as well. Julian Miller is doing a more than capable job on the other side of the defensive line. And safety Terence Garvin has been assignment-sound while maintaining an aggressive mindset -- something that separates mediocre safeties from the truly good ones.

  • Clarke, meanwhile, is going to have to start showing an ability to hold the football, lest he lose out on any opportunity to play this fall. He fumbled away a ball near his own goal line Friday for a defensive touchdown, and again fumbled in a short-yardage situation Saturday (the play Irvin may have returned for a score as well).

    On both occasions, he has been told to run around the perimeter of the field for essentially the remainder of practice as punishment. But he is going to have to start showing some ability to retain something from those lessons if he wants to do more than just sit and watch games from the bench this fall.

    "If he puts the ball on the ground again," Holgorsen said of Clarke, "he might not play at all."

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