MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The offense that was lacking in West Virginia’s first two scrimmages of the spring certainly showed up tonight.
Geno Smith completed 26 of 37 passes for 388 yards and four touchdowns, and backup Paul Millard added another 253 through the air with two TDs to lead the Gold to seven touchdowns during Friday night’s Gold-Blue spring football game before an estimated crowd of 22,000 at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“I really liked the way we competed, first of all,” said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart. “The guys played hard, there was some good, sharp hitting and it was a penalty-free game for the most part, which is really important.”
Smith threw touchdown passes of 44 and 67 yards to Stedman Bailey, a 38-yarder to Tavon Austin and a 3-yard TD pass to Tyler Urban. Millard hooked up with Trey Johnson for a 65-yard score and also added a 47-yard strike to Bailey, who finished the scrimmage with six catches for 182 yards and three touchdowns.
“Stedman has been a guy that has consistently gotten better since day one,” said offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen. “We had him out of position for about seven practices and once we moved him outside he looked more comfortable out there and he has a relationship with Geno that dates back to seventh grade.
“There are four other guys Geno is feeling pretty comfortable with – I think he’s feeling pretty comfortable with Tavon Austin and he feels pretty good about Tyler Urban,” said Holgorsen. “Shoot, we’ve been looking for about four more guys to step up and one guy who did really well tonight was Ryan Nehlen.”
Nehlen, named this year’s Nickolich Award winner as the top walk-on player of the spring, caught five passes for 79 yards to cap off an outstanding spring.
“I don’t know where he came from but he was catching things, keeping it in bounds and really looked good,” said Holgorsen.
Millard, a January enrollee, finished the evening 18 of 30 while also throwing the only interception of the scrimmage to Keith Tandy.
Johnson scored the lone rushing touchdown tonight, a 2-yard run in the second quarter, and freshman Vernard Roberts led all ball carriers with 64 yards rushing on 10 carries. Johnson added 57 yards on nine totes.
Twelve different players caught passes with six hauling in at least five; J.D. Woods led all receivers with eight receptions.
The offense rolled up 838 yards - 683 of those coming through the air - with a lot of that coming against the second defense. There were 104 total plays in tonight’s scrimmage with 70 of those being pass attempts.
“We’ve shown some improvement,” said Holgorsen. “As coaches we are never going to be satisfied with what we see and ultimately it’s about getting it on tape, watching it, and developing a whole bunch of cut-ups that we can watch throughout the summer and then figuring out what we can improve on heading into camp.”
“We definitely want to score points and we’re going to come out every game and try to do so,” added Smith.
Despite misfiring on only 11 passes in 37 tries, Smith said his communication with the receivers can still get better.
“We’re still a work in progress,” he said. “We are still making a few mistakes that we have to alleviate, but nothing happens over night and we’re just working to get it down pat and start clicking on all cylinders.”
Tyler Bitancurt converted one of his two field goal tries, hitting a 27-yarder and missing from 43 yards; Corey Smith missed his only field goal attempt from 32 yards.
The defensive coaches, citing the team’s poor tackling all spring, will have plenty of cut-ups to show their players. There were several missed tackles and plenty of yards gained after the catch during tonight’s scrimmage.
Defensive tackle Julian Miller was credited with two sacks and four total tackles, while Will Clarke and Bruce Irvin each added a tackle for a loss.
“They made some progress the last couple of weeks and it was a good situation for us getting some live bodies in the stands - and the next opportunity they are going to get is going to be for real so that’s critical for these young guys,” said defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. “We view this as another practice and a chance for the kids to get after each other and give us some live looks.”
“We haven’t really installed a lot of our defense – we used mostly our base – so we’ve got a lot of work to do between now and the start of fall camp, but we’ll be alright,” added Irvin.
The biggest disappointment of the evening came in the third quarter when starting left guard Josh Jenkins got rolled up on during a Roberts run. Jenkins had to be transported off the field in a golf cart. Also, Ivan McCartney spent the second half in street clothes. He caught two passes for 15 yards.
Tonight’s Gold-Blue game concludes the spring for the Mountaineers.Follow John Antonik on Twitter: @JohnAntonik