Defense Betters Offense in Gold-Blue

West Virginia watered down the spring game – and in doing so turned its high-powered offense and rugged defense into a sluggish, sloppy standoff of base looks.

It's not that WVU can be faulted for such a move. The coaching staff certainly doesn't want to give anything away, especially in one of five spring games to be nationally televised on a tape-delay basis by ESPNU. But the Mountaineers, running vanilla plays against regular fronts, remained out of sync offensively in their Gold-Blue spring game on Saturday, in which the offense defeated the defense 48-31 mainly because of the scoring setup.

The offense, which scored just 24 traditional points in 98 plays, was awarded points in the traditional manner, and also got one point for every first down. The defense scored three points for a three-and-out and for a turnover, two points for a stop, and nine points for any turnover that resulted in a touchdown on the same play.

"I know when we stopped them and got a turnover, then forced a three-and-out and were still down 14-10 that there was something wrong," said linebacker Jay Henry, who recovered an early fumble. "That scoring needs tweaking."

Only starting quarterback Pat White could consistently move the ball against WVU's defense, which continued its dominance shown over the 15 practices. He finished 23 of 30 passing for 215 yards against the second team. WVU's other four healthy quarterbacks were stymied by the first team defense, which is to be expected when running with the second team. The offense managed 441 total yards.

Spring injuries were partially to blame for the inept output. Half of the top eight wideouts missed time in the spring with injuries, and new tailbacks Tyler Benoit, who was moved from defense, and Jet Best have yet to grasp head coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense.

"I did not think our intensity level was what it should be," Rodriguez said. "But I thought our defensive guys swarmed to the ball and tackled well."

The injuries and lack of depth have caused tailback-turned-cornerback Pernell Williams to return to the offense to give West Virginia a surefire back besides Sugar Bowl MVP tailback Steve Slaton. Williams was the game's leading rusher with 31 yards on seven carries. Slaton carried well, but just did not play much because the staff knows what he can do.

"I think the best thing the guys can do now is get in the room and watch film," Slaton said. "That will be the most benefit over the summer."

White and Slaton continued to play few snaps so the backups in their slots could learn. WVU played all four of its healthy quarterbacks and also allotted snaps to little-used Markell Harrison. White started, followed by Jarrett Brown, Nate Sowers and T. J. Mitchell. Last year's starter until midseason, Adam Bednarik, missed the entire spring with a shoulder injury and Martinsburg, W.Va. native Nate Sowers is still nursing a bad left (throwing) shoulder.

Brown, who needed this time to prove that he could operate the offense without coaches standing directly behind him, as they have all spring, injured his left ankle on his second play and did not return. He was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain.

"I really wanted to get him in there," Rodriguez said. "He needs the snaps and the work. He'll just have to get it in the summer."

Mitchell's highlight was his eight-yard touchdown run to put the Gold ahead 48-25 with five minutes left. Mitchell also engineered the best drive of the day, a 70-yard effort in which he completed a long pass to Tito Gonzales to set up Brandon Barrett's sliding seven-yard touchdown grab. Barrett finished with 111 yards on five catches, including a 59-yarder in which he slipped several tackles to setup Mitchell's score.

Sowers got a chance on a two-minute drill at the end of the first half, but was sacked and stripped on the final play by defensive end Johnny Dingle. The Florida transfer recovered the fumble and lateralled to Morgantown native Marc Magro, who was pushed out of bounds before he could score.

"I thought the quarterbacks showed some leadership and didn't force the ball," White said. "It was a little tough out there because we watered down the offense. But if we execute, it should not matter."

Slaton scored the game's first touchdown with 11:20 left in the second quarter. It gave the Gold a 14-4 lead. Linebacker Jay Henry then recovered a fumbled snap on the very next series, giving the defense three points.

Besides Williams' 31 yards, wideout Darius Reynaud carried a reverse for 20 yards and former tailback-turned-slot receiver Jason Colson ran the ball three times for 13 yards. The lack of running stemmed from WVU's desire to practice the pass in preparation for teams trying to stop White and Slaton.

"We know people can outnumber you in the box," Rodriguez said. "We will be forced to pass, and we'll have to do so. That will be an important part of the summer, how the quarterbacks and wide receivers work together, when we can't be around them."

Pat McAfee's 29-yard field goal off a 39-yard drive pushed Gold's lead to 22-10 with 5:28 remaining in the first half. He has not missed a kick in two weeks. Scott Kozlowski, the expected replacement for punter Phil Brady, who sealed the Sugar Bowl on a fake, did the majority of the punting. His 25-yard field goal in the fourth quarter hit off the right upright.

Defensive standouts included backup defensive backs Kent Richardson and Trippe Hale. Richardson had two pass breakups and Hale had two solid hits.

"I think our guys are eager to improve," Rodriguez said. "But we need to be more consistent in the fundamentals. We have to have a good summer."

The teams played 12-minute quarters, three less than the traditional 15 minutes. Fans got to call a select number of plays for the second consecutive season. The clock was not stopped in the second half. The game was one of five spring games nationally to be televised on a tape-delay basis by ESPNU.

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