Spring Game Notebook

A series of notes and observations following Saturday's 43-34 win for the Blue (defense) over the Gold (offense) in WVU's annual spring game:

  • Offensive tempo goes up:

    Dana Holgorsen frequently said last season that his offense could not play with the tempo he ultimately desired.

    There were multiple reasons, including the newness of the scheme and, frequently, a lack of the appropriate rhythm that leads a coach to want to go uptempo.

    Early in Saturday's spring game, there were no such issues. Both the first- and second-team offenses started things off with 75-yard touchdown drives, and with momentum on his side, offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson (who called all the plays) saw fit to put his foot on the gas pedal.

    As the team's defense began to gain the upper hand, things slowed down. But the message had already been sent: when things are going well, this year's Mountaineers will go at a tempo that can rival the best and fastest offenses in college football.

    After an offseason of discussing what the difference could be from the first to the second season under Holgorsen, perhaps we have the answer.

    Dawson emphasized afterwards that having a feel for when to go fast and when to slow things down still is of the essence, but expect to see faster football than a season ago at times throughout the season.

  • Early enrollees shining:

    A large crop of newcomers will arrive this summer. If they have paid attention to what occurred this spring, all surely must enter the program feeling confident that they have the chance to compete for immediate playing time.

    If there are any doubts, they should only have to look as far as receiver Jordan Thompson and safety Karl Joseph. Joseph started with the first-team defense and finished with four tackles, while Thompson had a team-high eight catches for 66 yards and a touchdown.

    Both figure to enter fall camp firmly entrenched in battles for serious playing time as true freshmen. They likely won't be alone, as this defense is new enough -- and thin enough at critical positions like cornerback and defensive line -- to allow all the newcomers to at least compete when camp rolls around.

    Even out of a small class of early enrollees, it appears as though West Virginia has a couple of strong players to work with.

  • New defense opportunistic as advertised:

    Inside the Mountaineers' team meeting room, a single sheet of paper was taped to a door on a daily basis. It was updated each day with the total number of turnovers the defense had forced all spring and how many it had managed the practice before.

    That sort of emphasis on getting to the ball and being opportunistic showed, as the Blue generated four turnovers -- a key to its victory in the modified scoring format.

    A sense of physicality also was quite evident, as several jarring hits typically reserved for Saturdays in the fall were seen all over the field. The secondary did an effective job of baiting quarterbacks into some occasionally poor decisions.

    It's no accident that Oklahoma State's defense was one of the nation's best at generating turnovers in recent seasons. Joe DeForest has brought that attitude from Stillwater to Morgantown, and a ball-hawking attitude seems likely to characterize this defense's play when fall comes around.

  • Offensive line has mixed results:

    The team's offensive line was advertised as much improved. In some areas, particularly pass protection, that appeared to be true: when the defense didn't bring a heavy rush, offensive linemen seemed to do a strong job of picking up their men and giving quarterbacks time to throw.

    Indeed, of the five sacks taken by quarterbacks Geno Smith and Paul Millard, may were on the signal-callers themselves, as they frequently held the ball too long and allowed defenders to close in.

    But run blocking is still a work in progress. Take away the 40 yards lost on sacks, and WVU still only managed 78 rushing yards on 31 attempts -- an average of about 2.5 yards per carry.

    That simply isn't good enough to get the job done. If the Mountaineers are to live up to their billing as an explosive offense, they must present multiple threats. The running game was inconsistent at best last season, and the spring game presented no evidence to make observers believe this year should be much different.

  • Hot like a pistol:

    One under-the-radar move for WVU's offense came in terms of formations, as the squad -- particularly the second-teamers -- frequently lined up in the "pistol."

    The look, in which the quarterback stands in the shotgun with a running back lined up directly behind him, may be yet another wrinkle in the many that Holgorsen's offense has developed over time to frustrate defenses.

    It keeps opposing defenses from having a bead on the running back in the backfield before the snap. The formation has been relatively in vogue in college football lately after being popularized at Nevada.

    It may have been one key to the second-team offense's success, as the reserves seemed to frustrate the starting defense in stretches.

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