Spring Practice Notebook: Day 12

If Friday morning's scrimmage was any indication, there is no lack of work that remains to be done -- particularly on offense and special teams -- in the last week that remains before West Virginia's Gold-Blue game concludes spring practice.

The offense scored only two touchdowns on actual "drives" (that is, omitting two scores that were earned on possessions that began with a first-and-goal at the defense's 9-yard line) all morning long.

The first-team offense either lost yardage, committed a penalty or failed to gain yardage on 20 of 45 plays.

Indeed, after the first seven drives of Friday's practice, the Mountaineer defense actually held a 7-0 lead on the offense, thanks to an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown from cornerback Pat Miller, who picked off a pass from backup quarterback Paul Millard and headed back the other way.

The offense was victimized by its own mistakes time and time again. Penalties on the first two plays of the scrimmage (the first of which occurred in the offense's end zone, and thus resulted in a safety) set the tone for the day.

There were six offensive penalties, including two that wiped out plays that otherwise would have been touchdowns.

Things didn't go much better on that side of the ball even when the penalties weren't called. Again, the blue shirts were in the backfield early and often, registering five plays that were recorded as sacks -- and multiple others that probably should have been called sacks, including one that would have nullified another offensive touchdown.

But there were at least a few offensive highlights -- most notably, a Stedman Bailey 27-yard touchdown catch from Geno Smith on a third-and-7 play.

On back-to-back drives that started at the defense's 9-yard line, both the first- and second-team offenses scored. The starters found pay-dirt thanks to a 5-yard Daquan Hargrett scoring rush, while the backups converted on a 6-yard pass from Paul Millard to Willie Millhouse.

And on its final drive of the day (a two-minute drill rehearsal that started with the ball at its own 40-yard line and 1:35 on the clock), the first-team offense found the end zone again, as Smith scrambled around, then found a wide-open Tavon Austin, who walked into the end zone for a 22-yard score.

That, however, was the play that probably should have been called a sack, as defensive lineman Julian Miller looked to have a clean run at Smith before pulling up and putting his arms in the air.

  • As bad as the offense's day was, it was far worse when it came time for field goal attempts near the end of drills.

    Tyler Bitancurt missed both of his attempts, putting up an ugly kick from 27-yards away that fluttered through the air and missed wide right before coming back a few minutes later and pulling a 23-yard kick wide to the left.

    Corey Smith fared no better on his first try, as his 28-yard try was blocked by Qudral Forte. But on the last play of the day, he ended a two-minute drill drive by the second-team offense by making a 49-yard kick from the right hash -- easily the best-looking field goal reporters have seen so far thus spring from West Virginia.

    Head coach Bill Stewart partially blamed himself for the kicking woes afterwards, saying he probably did Bitancurt and Smith a disservice by making them wait through over an hour and a half of scrimmage time before trying a kick. But he also noted that similar situations could easily happen during games, and that both kickers needed to improve.

  • While the relevance of statistics from a "situational" scrimmage is debatable (considering how many different field position issues come into play), here are some of the totals worth noting from Friday's work:

    Smith completed 12 of 22 passes for 141 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (a nice pick by Najee Goode in the latter stages of the scrimmage). Millard was 13-of-22 for 138 yards, one TD and one INT. Brian Athey led the offense for one series and completed one of his three passes for five yards.

    Vernard Roberts led all rushers, taking the vast majority of his snaps with the first team offense. He ran 14 times for 50 yards. Hargrett carried seven times for 21 yards and a touchdown.

    Ryan Nehlen caught five passes for 56 yards, leading all receivers in both categories (though he took his reps with the second-team offense). Austin added another 48 yards receiving on his four catches. All told, 12 Mountaineers caught at least one pass.

    Plays were almost evenly split between runs and passes. WVU quarterbacks threw 47 times, and counting sacks, the offense ran the ball on 49 occasions.

    Credit and thanks goes to Brian Gawthrop of The Daily Athenaeum for compiling all of the above statistical totals.

  • For the first time, reporters got to see at least the nuts-and-bolts of kickoffs, even though no "live" kickoffs were attempted (meaning no kickoff returns were attempted and coverage units did not run all the way downfield).

    On the first kick, Hargrett and Vernard Roberts were back deep to receive. Hargrett was later replaced by Austin.

    The point of the drill was apparently to check if the coverage units knew their assigned lanes to fill and if the blockers knew their assignments on kick returns. It also allowed coaches to get a sense for the depth and height Corey Smith and Bitancurt could get on their kicks.

    The ball consistently came down between the 5 and 10-yard lines with adequate hang-time, though the fact that the players in coverage did not run all the way downfield made it harder to determine approximately how far returns would have gone.

  • Among those in attendance for Friday's scrimmage were former receivers coach Lonnie Galloway, former WVU head coach Don Nehlen and former Mountaineer lineman Rich Braham.

    For those curious, Galloway is back in Morgantown to help his family complete its move to North Carolina, where he is now the receivers coach at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons' spring practice is over, and Galloway will not be out on the road recruiting for his new employer until May.

  • While the Mountaineers have emerged from the early portions of spring practice largely healthy, there are a few injury concerns worthy of note.

    Running back Shawne Alston continued to be sidelined by the neck issue he has been dealing with for the last week. Ryan Clarke did not dress for practice due to a knee issue.

    Additionally, both Mike Dorsey and Josh Taylor played in the early portions of the scrimmage before being forced out. Dorsey appeared to have a groin issue, and Taylor had a problem with one of his legs.

  • WVU will take the weekend off before beginning its final week of spring practice on Monday. As always, BlueGoldNews.com will have all the details.

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