Finishing Strong

West Virginia had a crisp final practice and finished early on Wednesday, leaving the defending Sugar Bowl champions with just Saturday's annual Gold-Blue spring game remaining.

The kickoff will be at 12:30 p.m. and admission is $5. All proceeds benefit the WVU Children's Hospital. The teams will be divided into offense and defense, not two completely separate teams. The offensive scoring will be in the traditional sense (six points for a touchdown, one for a point after, three for a field goal or drop kick) and it will also get another point for each first down.

The defensive will get three points for a turnover, three for a three-and-out, two for any other stop, and, should a turnover be returned for a score, the normal six points, plus the point after. There will also be situational work, like goal line situations, which might not count in the scoring. The offense will wear white and the defense blue.

"The spring game will be key for our young quarterbacks and running backs," head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We won't be standing behind them like we have all spring. They will have to manage the game without us, make the right decisions. There is some importance to it because you find some guys that are calmer in that situation and some that panic."

West Virginia's final practice was watched by Texas A&M head coach Dennis Franchione, whose Aggies played their spring game April 8. writer Pat Forde, who predicted WVU to win the national title next season, was also in attendance for the 22-period, fully-padded workout.

The injury front remained largely the same, with quarterbacks Adam Bednarik and Nate Sowers in green. Sowers threw several decent balls, but still appears to be favoring the left arm a bit. Fullback Owen Schmitt (thigh) and defensive lineman Keilen Dykes (ankle) were also in green. Wideout Darren Brownlee and linebacker Tom Contraguerro finished their entire springs in green and tailback Jet Best was also in the limited contact garb. Tight end Brad Palmer and defensive tackle Jason Karns remained in red with receiver Rayshawn Bolden.

"We just have nicks and bruises; everybody in the country is the same way," Rodriguez said. "We came out ok."

The gist of the skill position work was in skeleton drills. Head coach Rich Rodriguez said he wanted to "get after it" today, but the drills were never at full contact, a precaution against any further injury in the spring. Wideout Jeremy Bruce had a nice sliding catch and Tito Gonzalez beat Vaughn Rivers for a score on a deep route during second-team work. Pat White also found Brandon Myles beyond the secondary late in practice. Tailback Pernell Williams got plenty of carries, and fellow back Tyler Benoit also mixed in well. Many of the passes went into the flats, but the Mountaineers tested the area between the linebackers and the secondary via slants and curl routes.

Defensive standouts were cornerback Kent Richardson, who had two interceptions, one for a score, and linebacker Marc Magro, who also had an interception for a touchdown. Eric Wicks broke up a couple passes, one of which should have been picked. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel did verbally challenge his unit after it allowed three consecutive first down plays in the middle of the full-squad work late in the drills.

"Some of it (the level of individual and team practice) is hard to judge because we had so many wide receivers in and out of the lineup," Rodriguez said. "We found guys in our secondary that we know have the talent to do it. We did not have as many mental mistakes in the secondary as you might expect, which is good."

The offensive line, aside from the full-team drills, worked on their punch using the weighted bags/pillows before doing the same against a live defender. They also again practiced footwork and extending an arm to seal off the defensive line and pushing the line to the outside on runs in the middle. The defensive line worked to contain outside runs, as the ends swarmed the tackles and practiced contain. The two units also challenged each other in the tackling dummy drill, the defense attacking the pad while the offense defended it.

"It was a typical spring in that we saw some good and some bad," Rodriguez said. "Most of the guys that needed work got it. As a whole I'd say we improved. I thought we saw positive things. We saw some guys that could help us win that were redshirted last year. What is next is to have a great summer. We had a fabulous summer last year. When the coaches saw them for the first time in two months, they were ready to go."

The Mountaineers will lift next week after the spring game on Monday and Wednesday. They will then get "dead week" and finals off to concentrate on classes, then get one week to visit families. Workouts the following two weeks will be on the players' own schedule before WVU gets into its full scale summer workouts.

Rodriguez said that proven players like Steve Slaton, Dan Mozes and Pat White would not play the entire game. The second half, he said, would be played mainly by reserves. WVU was power spraying the glass and seating areas in preparation for the game.

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