Blue Crush

Under the bright lights of WVU's first-ever nighttime Spring Game, the Mountaineer first-teamers shined. The much-hyped defense pitched a shutout, and an offense commandeered by Coley White made play after play in front of a crowd of 21,029 to lead the Blue to a 38-0 shellacking of the Gold on Friday night at Milan Puskar Stadium.

Those fans didn't see a competitive game, but head coach Bill Stewart likely would have been worried if they had. After all, the format pitted the starters and key reserves against those further down the depth chart for the second season in a row.

The players on the blue-clad first-team showed why they had earned their lofty spots on the depth chart.

The Blue defense held the Gold offense to only 1.7 yards per play and three first downs for the game. It picked off a pair of passes and only let its opposition cross midfield twice (even despite the fact that all drives started at the offense's 35-yard line).

Meanwhile, the starting offense churned out 331 yards of total offense on a 5.7 yards per play average, picked up 19 first downs, achieved near-perfect balance of rushing (169) and passing (162) yards, and scored 38 points on only eight possessions.

In short, it was a rousing way to end the four weeks of spring practice and a solid way to build momentum heading into the summer strength and conditioning period.

"Spring is about fundamental football, getting better at your position and competing against superior competition," said Stewart. "Tonight, we wanted to start the 2010 season in as fine of a fashion as we could."

  "We now have to jell as a football team, family and program. That's where we started tonight. That was good to see."

The first-team offense of coordinator Jeff Mullen particularly had a solid day, putting the talents of almost all of its playmakers on full display.

Star running back Noel Devine had 73 yards on 12 carries, including a 7-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Slot receiver Jock Sanders had eight catches (five more than any other player) for 70 yards, including an 18-yard scoring reception.

And others stepped up to have big days.

Shawne Alston made a case to earn more reps in an already-crowded backfield by gaining 51 yards on his eight carries and plunging in for a 1-yard touchdown that was the game's first score.

Stedman Bailey had 52 yards receiving on only three grabs, hauling in two touchdowns, including a 44-yarder from White that was the longest play of the game by far.

Indeed, White himself impressed the West Virginia coaches, going 16-of-25 passing for 162 yards and three scores with the Blue squad. He looked far more mortal when working with the reserves, hitting only six of 11 passes for 27 yards, taking two "sacks" (he was never tackled since he wore a gold, no-contact jersey) and being picked off twice.

That begged the question: did his performance improve because he had more talent at his disposal with the first-teamers? Or was it because he was going against a less-skilled defense when working with the starters?

For his part, Stewart seemed impressed.

"I liked the way Coley White stepped up and made plays with our offense," he said. "He's been written off and talked off, and he's probably been told that he's not going to be the guy. A lot of people said that, but I told him this week that we would move him to slot if he still wishes, but I want to keep his hand in the quarterback position."

Indeed, it appears White will make the move to receiver this fall, but will also continue to take reps at the quarterback position, much in the same way Brad Starks did a few seasons ago before making the full-time switch to receiver.

On the other side of the ball, a couple of unexpected stars led the way.

Linebacker Anthony Leonard led the Blue defense in tackles (six), sacks (1.5) and tackles for loss (3.0, accounting for 11 yards of losses for his opposition).

Safety Darwin Cook quietly had a solid game as well, getting one tackle and one highly-impressive pass break-up, perfectly timing a big hit on receiver Eddie Davis to pop the ball free on what looked to be a completion of at least 10 yards.

But they were just the headliners in what was an all-around impressive performance. Defensive lineman Jorge Wright and cornerback Brandon Hogan grabbed interceptions of White's passes, the latter returning the ball 31 yards in the other direction.

Wright tried to make a big play happen as well, lateraling the ball to safety Robert Sands after making his interception (which came off a carom after a big hit by linebacker Najee Goode). But Sands could only gain six yards before being hauled down.

But what the defense lacked in the spectacular, it made up for with relentless and consistently solid play that ensured the reserves would be held off the scoreboard (after they scored a touchdown last year on a long run by Jordan Roberts).

"Defensively, we didn't just play base," Stewart said. "We didn't go out there and do a three-man front or a base four-man rush. We did a lot of stuff on both sides of the ball. That was good. I wanted to see our defense fly around, knock the ball and create some turnovers. Our defense jelled well."

"I thought it was fun tonight."

RIFLE REPORTS:

  • The festivities began with an "Old Timers" Game, which pitted WVU greats from different eras against each other in a brief game of two-hand touch football.

    Despite an impressive roster of quarterbacks, the defenses had the upper hand early, grabbing interceptions of Jake Kelchner, Major Harris, Rasheed Marshall and Greg Jones on each of the first four drives of the game.

    Kelchner finally brought some offense to the game on the next-to-last drive, firing a 40-yard touchdown pass to former Mountaineer running back Quincy Wilson on the first play of a drive for the Blue team. Wilson made a nice catch in traffic for the score, but the Blue failed on its 2-point conversion attempt to make it 6-0.

    But Harris, the old Brashear Bullet, was not to be outdone. He led a methodical drive downfield and got his Gold team in position for a score as the clock wound down, ultimately finding John Gay for a 6-yard touchdown in the waning seconds.

    Harris had one last chance to win the game, but he was pressured heavily on his 2-point conversion attempt and was forced to throw an off-balance pass towards the goal line. It fell to the turf, and the game ended in a 6-6 tie.

  • While cornerback Keith Tandy picked up some hardware as one of the team's "Iron Mountaineers" (awarded to those who show superior dedication to the squad's offseason strength and conditioning program), he was not in attendance Friday night.

    Tandy was at a family funeral, according to Stewart. But the head coach extolled the progress the cornerback has made, and even went as far as to say he had become an example for the younger players in the secondary to emulate.

  • The other "Iron Mountaineer" awards went to offensive lineman Don Barclay, the star running back Devine, fullback Matt Lindamood and defensive lineman Chris Neild.

    Lindamood also was the recipient of the Tommy Nickolich Award, presented annually by the Blue & Gold News to the walk-on on the team that has distinguished himself with his effort and attitude. He went on to have one carry for six yards in the game.


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