Spring Practice Notebook: Day 13

As the final week of WVU's spring practice period began in earnest Monday, it was safe to say a trend started to emerge. For whatever reason, the Mountaineers' offense is finding considerably more success when it goes to an uptempo, "two-minute drill" pace as opposed to its normal speed.

That was the case during West Virginia's scrimmage on Friday, and it occurred again towards the end of Monday's practice.

After being largely stymied for the earlier portion of 11-on-11 drills, the first-team offense finally found some room to operate during one hurry-up drill just before WVU moved to its ball security/turnover circuit.

The ball was placed at the offense's 30-yard line and 1:35 was placed on the Milan Puskar Stadium clock.

The increased urgency in quickly lining up was noticeable, as plays that ended with players being "tackled" (no one was taken to the ground on Monday, as players practiced in helmets and shorts, with no other padding) were followed by the next snap within 8-9 seconds, typically.

The offense overcame a bad handoff from Geno Smith to running back Vernard Roberts (a fumble the offense pounced on for a loss of about five yards), using a 30-yard pass play from the quarterback Smith to inside receiver Tyler Urban to pick up a first down and move into the red zone.

On the next play, Smith found receiver J.D. Woods running clear along the back of the end zone, and Woods hauled the pass in with a diving attempt for an 18-yard touchdown with 24 seconds left on the clock.

Barring the bad handoff, it was easily the best offensive drive for WVU in several practices.

Even the Mountaineers' offensive line, which has been much-maligned in this space, performed reasonably well, at one point picking up a heavy outside rush and giving Smith ample time to step up in the pocket and read through his entire pass progression -- though the quarterback threw into traffic and his pass was batted away easily.

  • The second-team offense did not fare quite so well, though it too at least managed to get into scoring range before time would have expired.

    The defense started that drive with a solid play, as defensive lineman Will Clarke stayed home on a reverse attempt that was given to receiver Willie Millhouse, dropping the ball-carrier for a loss of about five yards.

    But quarterback Paul Millard was not discouraged by the bad down-and-distance situation, tossing a completion of about 18 yards to former signal-caller Coley White to move the chains.

    Millard also calmly found Millhouse on a short screen pattern to convert on a fourth-and-3 situation near midfield.

    The offense was in position to attempt a long field goal with six seconds left on the clock, but the practice period ended, and players instead headed to their respective stations for the ball security/turnover circuit practices end with.

  • While linebacker Josh Francis has been hailed for his aggressive and heady play throughout spring, he has also drawn consternation from coaches for his inability to pull up and avoiding hitting opponents at times.

    That happened again Monday, when the junior college transfer took down Millard early in 11-on-11 work. That got head coach Bill Stewart a bit hot under the collar, as he took the opportunity to tell the linebacker that he needed to "learn to practice without pads" lest he "break a [teammate's] leg."

  • Monday was the first decent day of weather that has greeted the Mountaineers in some time.

    After seemingly endless days of rain and cold and wind, the sun was high in the sky over Milan Puskar Stadium. Temperatures were in the mid-to-high 60s during practice, and at least one defensive player actually complained he was hot -- surely a first during this year's otherwise-gloomy spring practice.

  • Najee Goode continues to impress in the linebacking corps, picking off a Smith pass early in 11-on-11 drills that was intended for receiver Tavon Austin over the middle.

    Offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen said that ball security has generally been good thus far in spring, but said quarterbacks are throwing far too many interceptions.

    Millard almost gave one away as well, as Jewone Snow nearly grabbed an interception on a pass between the hashes that was intended for Urban.

  • Urban was again largely impressive, but showed he at least is mortal, dropping one pass from Smith that would have gone for about 15-20 yards. The converted tight end has been tremendously sure-handed otherwise throughout the past few weeks of drills.

  • Reverses, end-arounds and flea-flickers have been relatively common to see in practices, but as a result, the WVU defense might be getting used to that trickery.

    A flea-flicker on the first play of 11-on-11 drills was batted aside. A crafty end-around play, which saw Smith fake a handoff before stepping back as if he would throw and casually flipping the ball to Austin, was snuffed out easily by the blue shirts.

    Regardless, it's clear that those "gadget" plays will be used to keep opposing defenses on their toes all season long.

  • West Virginia will hold its next practice Wednesday. That will the the squad's final tune-up before the Gold-Blue Spring Game on Friday night.

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