With the Gold-Blue Spring Game just 12 days away, and five practices remaining for the spring, inquiring minds want some answers to these pressing questions …1. Who is going to be West Virginia’s starting quarterback, junior Paul Millard, freshman Ford Childress, or someone else?
Based on Dana Holgorsen’s comments throughout the spring, and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson’s remarks last Thursday, they are no closer to naming a starter now than they were back on March 10 when spring drills began. You might have to keep checking back until game week for the answer to this one.1a. Who is going to snap the the ball to the quarterbacks - Pat Eger, Tyler Orlosky, Tony Matteo, Russell Haughton-James or summer addition Stone Underwood?
Holgorsen said last week that the No. 1 objective right now at center is to find somebody who can get a shotgun snap back to the quarterback in the air on a consistent basis, which has been an issue when two of the candidates have never played the position before, one of the two (Eger) has been hobbled by an ankle injury, and the centers are lining up across two pretty good nose tackles in Shaq Rowell
and Christian Brown
. Basically, one guy has snapped the ball in games for the Mountaineers for the last three years (minus the two bowl losses) so center is going to be a huge question mark until the games start counting, and possibly beyond.
“We are trying to develop two guys that we feel good about and will add (Underwood) to the equation and add all three to compete in the fall, and then we will make a decision on who is one, two or three,” said Holgorsen.1b. Will the defense be any better than last year?
Yes. Two of the better players on this year’s football team are the two guys up front, Will Clarke
and Shaq Rowell
, so that’s a big plus, and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said last Thursday that he’s got about six guys competing at linebacker and six guys competing for the two starting corner jobs. That’s also encouraging. The safeties should be outstanding and the coaches are also high on several newcomers, some of them likely ending up being in the two-deep by the time the season kicks off on Aug. 31.
“I have always loved what (Patterson) has done defensively,” said Holgorsen. “That is the reason I hired him from a scheme standpoint. There were a couple of defensive philosophies last year but there is obviously one voice, there is one scheme, and that is what we want to do. The continuity of the staff, what we are doing schematically and with everybody being on the same page ... you see a lot of people that are in position to make plays.”4. Who will Holgorsen throw the ball to for a first down on third and six?
Stedman Bailey is gone. Tavon Austin is gone. J.D. Woods is gone. Ryan Nehlen is gone. Ivan McCartney is gone and Devonte Robinson is gone. That’s six of the top nine receivers from last year’s depth chart. Returning from last year’s receiver rotation are Jordan Thompson
, Connor Arlia
and Dante Campbell
, who combined to catch 22 passes in 2012. Then there is KJ Myers
, Devonte Mathis
, Will Johnson
and a pair of newcomers, Kevin White
and Daikiel Shorts
, practicing this spring. Last week, the Mountaineers moved backup quarterback Logan Moore
to inside receiver to help with depth issues there. Touted recruits Mario Alford, Ronald Carswell and Shelton Gibson can’t get to Morgantown soon enough.
“Offensively we are just so inexperienced,” noted Holgorsen. “I don’t know where to start. We have a bunch of guys that will make a play and then make a mistake.”5. Can the Mountaineers get a more consistent pass rush to help offset some of the difficulties they had in the secondary last year?
DBs are always the first to shoulder the blame when a defense gives up 38 touchdown passes like West Virginia did last year, but it doesn’t help much when the guys up front can only produce 23 sacks in 13 games. That’s less than two a game and for a defense based on negative yardage plays and keeping offenses off schedule, that is almost as alarming as the 38 TD passes surrendered. Keith Patterson’s deal is to bring pressure from different places, so the sacks can come from linebackers, safeties, corners or from any of the three guys up front, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that they get more of them this year – whoever gets them.6. Who will handle the return game?
The guy who can consistently catch punts and kicks in the air is the one who will win the job. Having a Tavon Austin back there to return kickoffs and punts was like having an extra player on your roster. His punt return for a TD nearly flipped the TCU game in West Virginia’s favor, and his combined 978 return yards were hardly hidden. After listening to special teams coordinator Joe DeForest discuss the return game earlier this spring, it seems to me his top priority by the beginning of the fall is to find a couple of guys who can consistently field punts and kickoffs. In other words, avoid the negative (turnovers) before seeking the positive (touchdowns).7. Will West Virginia have a stronger running game in 2013?
Most likely. After a long stretch of 1,000-yard rushers dating back to the mid-1990s, West Virginia has not had a 1,000-yard ground gainer since Noel Devine went for 1,465 yards as a junior in 2009. I’m not sure if the Mountaineers will have a 1,000-yard runner again this year, but Holgorsen does like the depth he has now acquired at running back, really, for the first time since he’s been in Morgantown. Andrew Buie
and Dustin Garrison
are the most experienced players, both going over 200 yards in games during their careers, but junior college transfer Dreamius Smith
is probably the guy with the biggest upside. Of the four ball carriers the Mountaineers are working with this spring, my guess is that if there is going to be a 1,000-yard rusher in 2013, it will probably be Smith.
“It is just nice to have four good, capable bodies,” said Holgorsen. “They are all a little bit different. They all bring something different to the table. That is going to be a fun battle to watch. As you know, we are going to be using them all in one way or another.”8. Does West Virginia have a kicker?
Yes. From all indications, Josh Lambert
has the leg strength, the accuracy and the height on his kicks to get the job done. Lambert sat out last year as a redshirt freshman after earning a scholarship out of high school in Garland, Texas. West Virginia also gave a scholarship to junior college punter Nick O’Toole from Fullerton College where he averaged 41.8 yards per boot last year. O’Toole is expected to arrive on campus sometime this summer. Based on my experience following college football through the years, specialists who receive scholarships before they get to campus are typically pretty good. Hopefully that turns out to be the case for the Mountaineers this year.