It is certainly no secret that WVU head coach Bill Stewart is a consumate glass half-full kind of guy. That's not to say that the first-year Mountaineer mentor is reluctant to pick out the negatives in his team's play, but more often than not, Stewart will beging his post-practice remarks with the good news first, moving on to the not-so-good later on.
Even if he weren't the eternal optimist, though, Coach Stew would still have been left with no choice but to begin his remarks following Saturday's scrimmage by praising the WVU defense, which dominated the workout at sunny Milan Puskar Stadium.
"Wow," Stewart said. "How about those blue shirts? I'll tell you what, there were some heat-seeking missles out there on defense today. I was very pleased with the defensive effort put for by your Mountaineers. They were flying around. Balls were getting knocked loose, jarred loose, picked loose."
Indeed, Jeff Casteel's troops held the upper hand for a majority of the afternoon. Led by a deep and talented group of linebackers, the navy-clad defenders swarmed to the football both on land and in the air, leaving Casteel and his assistants fired up while offensive counterpart Jeff Mullen and his staff were visibly frustrated.
Save for a 50-yard touchdown pass from Jarrett Brown to Bradley Starks, the offense was unable to convert the big play. Even more impressive, though, might have been the play of the 'D' when backed up against its own end zone. With the offense hoping to punch in the pigskin with a start inside the 10, linebackers Archie Sims and Ivy both picked off passes to thwart the scoring threats. Too, the defense was able to send the offense off the field on three and out multiple times, leading to field goals by Pat McAfee and Chris Glenn.
"In the red zone, on third down, we're trying to keep the offense from getting a touchdown," Stewart explained. "We'd love to hold them to three. We want to keep that offense from getting in the end zone, first and foremost. They not only did that, keeping them out of the end zone, but they took the ball the other way and tried to score the other way.
"That was really impressive," he continued. "That made my week and I'll sleep well this week knowing that they did that."
On the other hand, can such a dominating performance by one unit spell doom for the other? Not quite, as no games are ever won or lost in the spring. From the glass half-empty approach, Stewart admits that the offense has a lot of work to do.
"It was frustrating," Stewart said. "Very, very frustrating. We had a safety, and we could have had another safety were it not for little No. 7 getting out there."
Stewart was referring to the latest "no he didn't" moment from sophomore running back Noel Devine, who broke loose from the grasp of defensive tackle Scooter Berry five yards deep in the end zone, reversed field, turned the corner and flew by a host of other defenders before finally being run out of bounds around midfield.
Unfortunately, Devine's great escape was the exception to the rule on Saturday as the offense was unable to consistently mount a threat. Though the lineup next fall will look very similar to that which started the Fiesta Bowl, the Mountaineers are going through spring without the services of two starting offensive linemen (Greg Isdaner and Mike Dent) while a third (Ryan Stanchek) continues to nurse an injury sustained this spring. Stanchek did participate for portion's of Saturday's scrimmage, but wore a green (limited contact) jersey.
In addition to the holes up front, West Virginia must also find permanent replacements for some of its most productive offensive weapons who have moved on to the professional ranks.
"When you lose a Darius Reynaud, an Owen Schmitt, a Stevie Slaton…you're losing some people that are hard to replace," Stewart noted. "Until we get gelled and get into rhythm and all of that coachspeak stuff, our defense will have to carry us."
Such was the case on Saturday.