Questions To Be Answered

Between the fans in the stands, those sitting in front of television sets and computer monitors across the country, there will be plenty of eyeballs on the Gold-Blue Spring Game that will conclude West Virginia's spring football practice period a week from today.

But what, exactly, should those observers be looking for?

In some ways, your answer is as good as the ones that will be written in this space: after all, this reporter has gotten to see exactly one snap of 11-on-11 football this entire spring.

So I can only offer what I personally will be watching with great interest when the Mountaineers tee it up against ... the Mountaineers for the first spring game under the direction of Dana Holgorsen as head coach.

  • 1. What style of play will the defense utilize?

    Anyone other than a coach or player trying to explain what WVU's new defense looks like is selling you a bill of goods. We just haven't seen enough football to know with any certainty for ourselves.

    Listen to co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest, though, and there is much that can be gleaned: it's a system that plans to be very aggressive in the hopes of forcing plenty of turnovers.

    It was a system that worked for Oklahoma State, where DeForest was previously an assistant, last season. West Virginia has charted turnovers all spring long, keeping track of both the total number of turnovers forced and the number on a day-to-day basis.

    How will it all translate to the field? The spring game is our first chance to find out. DeForest said it there will rarely be a snap when his defense doesn't send at least one extra rusher to compliment the three down linemen. Those players can come from all angles.

    DeForest's co-coordinator Keith Patterson said that spring wasn't enough time to install everything the defensive coaches ultimately hope to have at their disposal, and that some things will just have to wait until fall.

    Thus, the spring game may show us a somewhat "vanilla" version of what the new, hybrid 3-4 scheme may eventually look like. But it will still be worth paying attention to just how aggressively the defense plays overall.

    Any other observations may be a bit premature when looking at the defense, because many position moves may happen in the fall, when Terence Garvin and Jewone Snow are expected to return to action and a full freshman class can also get in the mix.

  • 2. Who can compliment Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey?

    There are two known quantities at receiver for WVU. They are both bona fide stars. Barring injury, you can expect huge seasons from both. It's a nice position for the Mountaineers' coaches to be in.

    In fact, those coaches made a simple, subtle move to help accentuate the two receivers' skills, moving Austin from the "H" to the "Y" position to ensure Bailey and Austin line up on opposite sides of the field -- and defenses have to worry about both sides of the field as a result.

    While that move should help open things up a bit for the offense, what would truly help would be developing a third option that is every bit as bothersome to a defense as Austin and Bailey.

    There has been praise for both Dante Campbell and Jordan Thompson this spring, and the Gold-Blue Game will be the first chance for just about anyone outside the team itself to see them actually line up and play. Even J.D. Woods -- a player who has spent much time in Dana Holgorsen's proverbial doghouse -- has gotten some kind words foisted upon him.

    Ivan McCartney may continue to be limited by the hamstring injury that has plagued him all spring, but that may just give the other players a chance to step into the rotation and show what they are capable of.

  • 3. Is the offensive line as good as the hype?

    The years run together after awhile, but this may be the first season that the general tone of conversation surrounding the play of WVU's offense line has been positive since Bill Stewart's first season as head coach, 2008.

    Position coach Bill Bedenbaugh doesn't seem like a guy who praises those who don't deserve it, so when he says Jeff Braun looks like a totally different player, that Josh Jenkins' presence has been a boon, that the entire line is as focused, experienced and eager to learn as any he has coached -- it tends to raise the eyebrows a bit.

    Though we have gotten to at least see a bit from each of these players during one-on-one work like the "Oklahoma" drill, nothing can substitute for watching an offensive line work as a unit to run block and pass protect.

    So let's see what this front five is made of. Is Joey Madsen worthy of the proclamations that he may be the finest center Holgorsen has had in his career? Are things, overall, better?

    There will be a rush to make a definitive judgement about the line (and everything else) largely because this will be our first and only chance to see the team in action until fall. But particularly when it comes to the offensive offensive line, temper your enthusiasm if things go well. The blockers will be going against a defensive line that is starting new players with new responsibilities.

    Still, if the performance is a respectable one, some may rightfully begin to wonder if there is truly a weak link on this offense as it heads into the summer strength and conditioning period.

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