Fall Practice Notebook: Day 8

The first week of fall training camp is in the books for the WVU football team. It concluded with a situational scrimmage Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium, which, as is often the case this early in the season, was characterized by a healthy mix of good, bad and occasionally ugly play.

Mountaineer coaches on both sides of the ball had to be pleased at least on some level, as some of the "good" came from players on both offense and defense.

Running back Noel Devine wasted little time in showing why he is considered a front-runner for so many national awards. On his first carry, the senior broke contain for 15 yards. Two series later, on his third touch of the day, he rushed 79 yards for a touchdown to culminate a four-play, 98 yard drive.

Devine finished with 99 yards on four carries before head coach Bill Stewart decided he had seen enough of the speedster and left him on the bench for the remainder of the afternoon.

But that was the only thing that truly came easily to the offense all day. And the blue-clad defense quickly set about backing up all the hype it has received in the preseason.

If there is a human personification of that hype, it is Bruce Irvin. The junior college transfer has been the subject of plenty of talk from media, coaches and players since arriving in Morgantown for fall camp. In his first real live action in front of the media, Irvin showed that there is substance behind the hype.

Playing at one end of the front four in WVU's nickel package, he wreaked havoc early, earning two "sacks" of quarterback Geno Smith (Smith and other quarterbacks wore gold jerseys showing defenders they were not to be hit) on third downs on the first two series for the first-team offense.

On the first, Irvin came through like a bullet, seemingly untouched by any blocker in reaching Smith before the starting signal-caller knew what to do. On the second, Irvin bulldozed his way over right tackle Jeff Braun before closing quickly on Smith to make the play.

Each time, the offense lost eight yards and had a drive come to a halt. Irvin, like Devine, had limited opportunities to put his skills on display, but made a substantial impression in his time on the field.

Backup quarterbacks Barry Brunetti and Jeremy Johnson split reps with the second-team offense. Each had some bright moments, and each made it clear that they were true freshmen at stretches as well.

Johnson fumbled on the second play of his first series on the field and freshman Michael Dorsey recovered. On the next series for the second-team offense, Brunetti was under center and had equally disastrous results.

On the first play of the drive, a bad center-quarterback exchange resulted in a fumble that the offense recovered. One snap later, Brunetti and running back Trey Johnson had trouble making a clean exchange of the ball, and Brunetti fell on the pigskin in the end zone for a safety.

It wasn't all bad for the freshmen, however. Brunetti was a perfect 4-of-4 passing for 44 yards on the day, including a nice pitch to freshman receiver Ivan McCartney for a 24 yard gain near the sidelines.

Johnson's passing numbers weren't exceptional (3-of-4 for nine yards) but he did show his athletic ability on several plays.

Since the quarterbacks weren't allowed to actually be hit, and referees were a touch stingy about when they determined one of the gold-clad Mountaineers to be "tackled", the Silsbee, Tx., native officially only had three carries for seven yards. But on one play, Johnson appeared likely to gain at least 20 yards (indeed, he was not far from scoring a touchdown), but referees credited him with only two.

Freshman running back Trey Johnson showed a bit of skill, running for 28 yards (including a nice, physical carry on a 17-yard touchdown scamper) on only four carries.

After Irvin's two sacks ended a pair of drives early, the starting offensive players managed to put together their two best drives of the day despite being backed up on their own 2-yard line.

The first drive ended with Devine's 79-yard touchdown run, which was set up when Smith did a nice job to recognize an aggressive blitz coming on third-and-8 and hit Jock Sanders on a quick slant for 13 yards to move the chains.

The second was a gradual effort, with Smith again making a nice play on a third down, this time hitting Tavon Austin for 24 yards on a third-and-6 from the offense's 16-yard line. Since the goal of the drives from the offense's 2-yard line is to gain a pair of first downs (to simulate an effort to "flip" field position), the coaches called the drive over at that point.

RIFLE REPORTS:

  • Several West Virginia players missed the scrimmage due to injury issues. As expected, cornerback Keith Tandy, safety Sidney Glover and receiver Bradley Starks were all sidelined. Tandy and Glover are dealing with minor hamstring troubles, and Starks has a slight hip/groin pull.

    They were joined in the team's red jerseys (signaling no participation) by reserve defensive end J.B. Lageman and reserve defensive back Trippe Hale. Defensive lineman Josh Taylor wore a green jersey (limited participation) but did not take any reps in the scrimmage.

    Notably absent was freshman offensive lineman Quinton Spain, who had written on his Facebook page Friday that he had finally been cleared by the NCAA and would be in Morgantown on Saturday. Reports are that Spain should be at practice when it resumes on Monday.

  • While no punt work was done in the scrimmage, the typical drills were performed before the situational work began. Each punter took three reps working out of their own end zone and snaps coming from the 2-yard line. As per the norm throughout the first week of practice, results were mixed.

    Gregg Pugnetti started off well, with a nice 45-yard punt that had plenty of hang time. His second effort was a poor one, traveling only 29 yards. But the fifth-year senior redeemed himself on his final attempt, booming a 52-yard kick that was in the air for several seconds.

    Alabama transfer Corey Smith did not fare quite as well. His first kick was a 39-yarder that was somewhat low. Smith's second punt was a bit better in terms of hang time but traveled only 38 yards. His final attempt was easily blocked by Lawrence Smith, who almost could have tackled Smith outright in the end zone.

  • After showing near-pinpoint accuracy for most of the last three days of practice, placekicker Tyler Bitancurt was a bit hot-and-cold on Saturday afternoon.

    He started off well, making all four of his field goals in drills before the scrimmage began, and then hit on attempts of 34 and 35 yards in the scrimmage.

    But things were a bit shaky from there, as the sophomore missed a 46-yard attempt low in "NASCAR" kicking drills towards the end of the scrimmage and then banged an extra-point attempt off the left upright after a 5-yard Austin touchdown rush as the team worked on goal-line situations.


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