Defense bests WVU offense in spring game

Despite being without several key contributors who will be expected to play a big role in the 2015 season, the West Virginia defense was able to get the best of the Mountaineer offense, cruising to a 42-10 win in the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game Saturday in Morgantown.

Using an amended scoring system that gave the defense points for picking up three-and-outs and getting stops, the Mountaineers were able to flex their muscles early and often against the offense and allowed the WVU offense to score on just two occasions while also forcing four turnovers.

"If it wasn't like that right now, we'd be in trouble," said West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen. "(The defense) has a lot of experience. I can't give Tony Gibson enough credit, he deserves all the credit for where we're at. Getting us in a place defensively is something that we've obviously focused on around here for three or four years.

"We've got great defensive continuity with our coaching staff and we have 15 or 16 guys who have started games."

As always, the spring game signaled the end to a successful spring for the Mountaineers, who are coming into the 2015 campaign off last year's 7-6 finish. West Virginia was able to use the last five weeks to its advantage and get things moving to a place where it feels like things are moving in the right direction.

But now they get the chance to rest up and prepare for the rest of the offseason.

"The next month is when college football student-athletes need to get away from football a little bit and let their bodies heal, finish academics strong, go spend time with their family and be ready to go in June," Holgorsen said. "A lot of good things happened this spring ... We're a far cry from where I hope to be come September 1 when we start playing games, but I was pleased with the amount of work that we got done and I think we're going to be a pretty good football team."

West Virginia was without eight players listed as starters on offense and defense Saturday, including cornerback Daryl Worley, running backs Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood, offensive lineman Yodny Cajuste, defensive linemen Noble Nwachukwu and Kyle Rose and linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Jared Barber - as well as cornerback Ricky Rumph, linebacker Dayron Wilson and safety Jarrod Harper.

Because of the number of players who weren't in action, a number of players got their chances to shine or got the chance to try different things out.

The most notable player in that category was redshirt freshman William Crest. The Mountaineers' backup quarterback was all over the place Saturday, in addition to completing three out of five passes for 31 yards. Crest played a lot in the slot at inside receiver, catching three passes for 31 yards, and played a little running back while also going back to return punts.

"He's one of our better football players. A lot of this is what spring football is about - the ability to experiment with different people at different things," Holgorsen said. "We would all agree that he's a pretty good football player, so we're going to continue to do things and figure out what he does best, whether that's playing receiver, running back, quarterback, punt returner or kick returner."

Donte Thomas-Williams made the most of his chances without Shell and Smallwood in the game, carrying the ball 15 times for 87 yards while Jacky Marcellus got 12 carries for 47 yards and the game's only touchdown. Quarterback Skyler Howard completed just nine of 22 attempts for 121 yards to lead the passing game, while Shelton Gibson was the Mountaineers' top receiver with four catches for 84 yards.

Xavier Preston and Larry Jefferson were two who impressed quite a bit on the defensive side of the ball. Preston, a sophomore linebacker, made five tackles and had a sack and a forced fumble. Jefferson, a junior college transfer, also made five tackles for two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss.

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