Fall Practice Notebook: Day 14

West Virginia's third preseason training camp under Bill Stewart came to a conclusion Saturday afternoon with an 81-play "situational" intrasquad scrimmage at Milan Puskar Stadium.

Both the offense and defense had reasons for optimism at the end of the day, as each unit seemed dominant in certain stretches.

It was the white shirts under the command of offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen that got off to a hot start.

With the ball at their own 35-yard line to start things off, the starters only needed five plays to reach the end zone. Running back Noel Devine took a swing pass from quarterback Geno Smith and scampered 42 yards down the sidelines on the first play of the day. On the next snap, Devine took a handoff and gained 18 more yards, eluding multiple would-be tacklers along the way.

The defense stiffened, holding Devine to no gain on first-and-goal and dropping the senior running back for a loss of two yards on second down. On third-and-goal from the 12-yard line, Smith fired across the field to slot receiver Jock Sanders for a score.

Defenders disagreed with the decision to let the play continue after defensive lineman Julian Miller seemed to be in position to sack Smith (those on defense, as per usual, were not permitted to make contact with the quarterbacks). But the Big East officials on the field gave the offense credit for the touchdown.

The second-team defense didn't fare much better in its first series on the field. Freshman quarterback Barry Brunetti made a splash on his first play of the day, finding slot receiver Coley White between the hash marks for a 45-yard gain. White made a nice play, diving with full extension to grab the football, which looked like it might have been just a touch overthrown.

The drive stalled there, however, and the reserves had to settle for a 30-yard Corey Smith field goal.

When the starters came back on the field, the defense fought to redeem itself. The blue shirts yielded another pair of first downs before taking advantage of a 5-yard penalty on the offense for an ineligible receiver downfield.

On the ensuing first-and-15, receiver Tavon Austin found no running room and was dropped for a loss of another three yards. After Smith passed incomplete on second down, Miller managed to get credit for a sack on third-and-18, bringing the drive to an end with another 5-yard loss.

The backups again took to the field, this time with Jeremy Johnson at quarterback.

The Texas native didn't need to do much of the work on the drive, as fullback Matt Lindamood made one of the plays of the day, taking a handoff and plowing through the tackle attempt of safety Darwin Cook before showing an impressive burst of speed en route to a 58-yard gain.

Three plays later, running back Daquan Hargrett seemed close to paydirt, but officials ruled he fumbled just short of the goal line. The defense recovered in the end zone for a touchback, and momentum seemed to shift to that sideline.

Head coach Bill Stewart ordered the ball moved back to the offense's own 2-yard line, to see if the offense could gain about 20 yards to at least make for more favorable field position if a punt was needed.

From there, the blue shirts seemed to smell blood, as the offense struggled to make anything happen. The first-team offense failed to get even a single first down on three consecutive drives.

The third of those drives featured the lone real mistake of the day by Smith, as the starting signal-caller failed to see linebacker Anthony Leonard dropping into coverage on a third-and-5 play from the 7-yard line. Leonard picked off a pass intended for Austin and easily returned it 10 yards for a touchdown.

It took a completion of nine yards from Smith to receiver J.D. Woods on third-and-7 on the subsequent possession to give the starting offense its only first down of the day when backed up against its own goal line. Smith and company were held to two more three-and-outs before Stewart finally moved the ball to midfield and gave some players further down the depth chart a chance to enter the scrimmage.

Brunetti made a nice play on a third-and-8 play from there, as he worked with the reserves. The Memphis, Tenn., native scrambled to his right to buy time and floated a high-arcing pass to fellow freshman Ivan McCartney for 27 yards.

Austin wowed those in attendance a few series later, when he faced cornerback Pat Miller one-on-one after taking a handoff on an end-around. The speedy sophomore needed only one juke move to leave Miller grasping at air and easily went 25 yards for a touchdown.

Smith was 14-of-19 passing for 147 yards and two touchdowns to go with one interception. Brunetti hit on six of his eight attempts for 88 yards and was picked off on the last play of the day by freshman Wes Tonkery. Johnson was 6-of-7 for 51 yards and one score.

After a hot start, Devine was largely limited by the defense. He had only 13 yards on his seven carries. Freshman Trey Johnson was impressive in his work with the backups, gaining 65 yards on his 13 totes. Lindamood had 63 yards on only three attempts.

McCartney led the receivers, catching five passes for 48 yards and a touchdown in his work with the reserves. Sanders had four grabs for 34 yards and a score, while White, the converted quarterback, had 50 yards receiving on two catches.


  • While no Mountaineer players were in the team's green or red jerseys due to injury, several saw limited action or were held out altogether because of various physical problems.

    Most notable was middle linebacker Pat Lazear, who suffered a bone bruise in one leg, just below the knee, when he was accidentally leg-whipped by safety Robert Sands during practice on Thursday. Lazear stood on the sidelines on crutches, but is expected to return to practice by the middle to latter portion of this coming week.

    Wide receiver Bradley Starks was only on the field for a few snaps after missing almost all of the second week of camp. Running back Shawne Alston was held out of action entirely after Stewart said the sophomore's knee "bothered him a little bit."

    "We know what he can do," the head coach said.

  • WVU had the opportunity to play in front of a crowd for the first time this season, as higher-level donors to the Mountaineer Athletic Club were invited to attend Saturday's scrimmage.

    About a thousand fans thus lined the stands on the press box side of the stadium, where they snapped pictures of the scrimmage, cheered big plays and enjoyed a sunny day inside Milan Puskar Stadium.

    The donors heard speeches from several of the prominent names in the athletic department, including Stewart, director of athletics Oliver Luck, men's basketball head coach Bob Huggins, MAC executive director Niles Eggleston, and newly-hired associate athletic director for governance and compliance Keli Cunningham.

  • The fans in attendance gave one of the biggest cheers of the day to a play that happened before the scrimmage ever began, when fifth-year senior Gregg Pugnetti boomed a punt deep out of his own end zone that traveled 53 yards in the air with ample hang time.

    That was the highlight of the day's special teams work. Field goal kicker Tyler Bitancurt was five-of-six in pre-scrimmage drills, only missing a 38-yard attempt from the left hash that never quite hooked inside the uprights.

    WVU did show one new special teams wrinkle, lining Bitancurt up as if he were to attempt to kick a long field goal but instead having the sophomore perform a quick pooch punt. It didn't work too well on this occasion, as Bitancurt shanked the punt badly to the right. The ball only went about 20 yards before going out of bounds.

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