Solid Gold

Fans wanted to see offense, and WVU athletic director Oliver Luck hired Dana Holgorsen to make it happen. Both parties got their wish on Friday night at the Mountaineer football program's annual Gold-Blue Spring Game, as the offense took advantage of a modified scoring system to dominate the defense in an 83-17 rout.

The inflated score was the result of multiple factors favoring the offense. First, the scoring system itself gave many opportunities for the offense to score, as each first down was worth a point, and touchdowns, extra point kicks and field goals were all worth their normal amounts.

The defense could only score if it ended a drive (two points), forced a three-and-out (three points) or forced a turnover (three points).

Add in the fact that the first-team offense faced the second-team defense (and, conversely, the second-team offense faced the starting defense) and a rout for the Gold team was almost ready-made.

But credit the offense for taking advantage of its opportunities. It scored early and often, playing at a fast tempo while staying crisp in its execution and avoiding the majority of the mental mistakes that often slowed it down this spring.

It made good on the promise of Holgorsen's past, throwing the ball far more often than any Mountaineer attack in recent memory. The first-team offense, led by quarterback Geno Smith, threw on 11 of its first 12 plays and scored touchdowns on each of its first two drives.

Smith found receiver Stedman Bailey for a 44-yard touchdown pass to end the first drive of the game. He then hit Tavon Austin for a 38-yard score on a quick screen pass to conclude the next series. The rout was on.

The starting offense drove into field goal range on its next possession, but Tyler Bitancurt missed a 43-yard field goal. Undeterred, the first-teamers drove 75 yards for another touchdown on their next trip, a drive that included a pair of nice catches for Ryan Nehlen that totaled 32 yards.

The starters again had another solid drive, getting all the way to the defense's 10-yard line, before time nearly ran out in the first half, forcing them to settle for another Bitancurt field goal attempt. This time the kicker was true from 27 yards away, and the offense went into halftime with a commanding 46-13 lead.

Smith wasn't stopped in the second half either, leading a pair of additional touchdown drives before Holgorsen decided he had seen enough from the junior quarterback, sending him to the sidelines and giving third-string signal-caller Brian Athey his chance to enter the contest.

Smith finished 26-of-37 for 388 yards and four touchdowns. While spring games obviously are not comparable to contests during the season, it's worth noting that a West Virginia quarterback has thrown for more yards than that only five times in school history, and none at all since Marc Bulger in 1998.

His backup, freshman Paul Millard, also impressed with the reserves, completing 18-of-30 passes for 253 yards and another two touchdowns. He was intercepted once, but the Flower Mound, Texas, native also led two touchdown drives in the second half.

This game recap presented by The Book Exchange
But the starting defense did slow down Millard and the reserves in the first half, as Keith Tandy picked off a pass from the freshman early. The defense also forced two three-and-outs from the offensive backups in the first half.

Bailey had a breakout day, catching six passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns. Four other receivers had 70 or more yards.

The news was not all good for the offense, though, as starting left guard Josh Jenkins went down on the turf in agony with an apparent knee injury in the second half. He was carted off the field, and teammates came to his side to offer support.

Head coach Bill Stewart said the Parkersburg native's knee was being evaluated after the game, and that tests would be run in the coming days to determine the extent of any damage.

RIFLE REPORTS:

  • End-of-spring awards were handed out before kickoff Friday night. Wide receiver and Morgantown native Ryan Nehlen took home the Tom Nickolich Award, presented to a walk-on who distinguishes himself with his attitude and effort.

    Nehlen followed through with a solid showing, catching five passes for 79 yards.

    The Iron Mountaineer awards, given to those who have shown outstanding dedication to the team's offseason strength and conditioning program, went to defensive lineman Will Clarke, linebacker Najee Goode and cornerback Keith Tandy.

  • The offensive fireworks from the actual scrimmage more than made up for the lack of scoring during the "Old Timers" game that immediately preceded the Gold-Blue Game kickoff.

    Neither offense managed a single score, even though all drives started at or inside the defense's 40-yard line. Even former WVU star Pat White couldn't engineer a scoring drive, though he did show off his trademark moves on one play, making one unfortunate defensive lineman fall flat on the turf while White juked and jived for a moderate gain.

    But it was former Mountaineer cornerback Aaron Beasley who provided all the scoring, picking off a pass and running the other way with it for what was scored as an interception return for a touchdown. Beasley's Blue team won the turnover-filled game 6-0.

  • The Gold-Blue Game came at the conclusion of a day filled with events surrounding the Mountaineer football program.

    A luncheon was held earlier in the day to honor Garrett Ford, the long-time WVU administrator who has advised student-athletes for decades and is retiring. A "chalk-talk" with former Mountaineer coaches Jim Carlen, Bobby Bowden, Frank Cignetti and Don Nehlen was held as well.

    Fans lined up at the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility on Friday afternoon for a sale of team gear. And former players got the chance to intermingle in the afternoon as well, as the athletic department's Varsity Club convinced former Mountaineers from many different areas to come back to Morgantown for the weekend.


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