The Mountaineers took the last 20 minutes of practice to run a two-minute drill, last-second field goal attempt and to further work clock management after an NCAA rule change. No longer will teams have 25 seconds to snap the ball after it is set by officials. Instead, on routine snaps where players remain inbounds, a 40-second clock will start immediately after a secured tackle. The setup is similar to NFL play, and has caused collegiate teams struggles throughout spring, according to head coach Bill Stewart. So the staff reasoned that a few spring snaps taken under such pressure could alleviate some issues in the fall.
"The human element has been taken out of college football with the way they spot the ball," Stewart said. "New clock, 40 seconds like the pros. When that ball is down it starts. We have been working on that. We did some last Saturday (in a scrimmage) and we will again this Saturday. It is going to be faster and it takes all the human element. Forty seconds that ball will be spotted and you will be ready to go. That 40 second clock is big."
Place kicker Pat McAfee converted all of his tries, and the Mountaineers didn't seem troubled by the time. But the plays were planned well in advance, and such controlled setups are not likely in a game, meaning the intrasquad scrimmage this weekend will be a much better gauge. WVU also worked NASCAR, its term for an end-of-game or half field goal. The ball was placed on one hash and a play was simulated. At the end of a play, an 11-second clock started. That was the time allotted the special teams to get on the field and snap the ball for the try. Stewart challenged his team to get the snap off within 11 seconds on a near hash and 18 seconds from the far hash.
"That was very good to get that on film," Stewart said. "It was good to see and get the game experience from the sideline. That could come back to help or haunt us in the fall if we don't do it well."
In addition to that film dissection, West Virginia prepped for the practice with a heavier viewing time this afternoon. It went just 18 periods, well off the 25 allotted, but did hold team and position meetings prior. The shortened practices have kept players fresh, and Stewart has said that he believes a team can be overworked. To prevent an early burnout, the staff has largely limited the final drills before a scrimmage, and they followed that pattern today.
"We had film and great teaching before practice and some great battling," Stewart said. "What you thought the offense should have won, the third (down) and two (yards), they were one for eight or two for eight. Then third and five or eight, the offense got after those blue shirts pretty good. That was nice to see. There were big plays, big catches. Will Johnson and Wes Lyons made some catches (on third down.) I thought our pass rushed lacked. We had to blitz to get to Patrick (White). That has not been the case a whole lot this spring. We had been able to get pressure. J.T. (Thomas) got him, but we had to blitz. Defensively, I thought they did very well, a nice job in the skeleton. The two-minute offense was 50-50."
White ended the two-minute drill by keeping for a score off a called third down pass play. West Virginia moved inside the two-yard line with 18 seconds remaining on a Tito Gonzales catch along the sideline. After Noel Devine was stuffed on a first down running play, White spiked the ball at the five-yard line with 11 seconds left. Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen called a pass play on third down, and WVU flooded the end zone with receivers. All were covered, however, forcing White to tuck it and run. The senior pump faked to freeze the linebackers, then sprinted out right. He beat Mortty Ivy to the corner for the score that ended drills.
West Virginia will not hold a Friday practice. The Gold-Blue game begins at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $5, with all proceeds going to the WVU Children's Hospital. The team will be divided into an offense and defense, with a scoring system similar to past seasons where the offensive is awarded the traditional points for scoring, as well as potentially one for every first down. The defense will be awarded points for stops, three-and-outs and turnovers, as well as any scoring it generates. There will be no autograph session afterward and fans will not be allowed on the field. WVU will hold a fan day before the season when players will be available for pictures and autographs.