Gold-Blue Spring Game
By Brian McCracken
If you look at the scoreboard of West Virginia’s Gold-Blue Spring Game, you might come away thinking the defense dominated the contest, however that’s not necessarily the case.
Tony Gibson’s defensive unit, which was the Blue squad, took home a 44-21 victory, but there was a lot to like on both sides of the football, and coaches and players all came away feeling good about the conclusion to spring practice.
On offense the biggest story of the day was Will Grier, and specifically the connection that the junior quarterback has already developed with wide receiver David Sills. Grier, who finished his day 12-of-18 for 203 yards, connected with Sills six times for 96 yards and often hit him in stride on a variety of routes. While many came away surprised with the quick emergence of Sills at the wideout spot, the stellar play was exactly what WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was expecting to see.
“We started Sills at the outside receiver position. He hadn’t played out there the entire spring, and I thought he did a really good job,” revealed Spavital. “His last four or five practices were pretty impressive, and that was something I was pleased to see. That was the first time we actually got to let him go out there and do his thing. He’s a big target, and I think it’s safe to say that he can be pretty good right now.”
Sills had spent the majority of spring practice playing at the inside receiver position but flourished in the outside role, something that could play big dividends for West Virginia’s offense in the fall.
“You’re going to see him play all over the place,” said Spavital. “He’s a very intelligent kid, and he loves the game. He keeps wanting me to put more on his plate to see how he handles it. From what I saw today and how he handled it, you’re going to see his role increase.”
Grier also impressed his offensive coordinator in his first public appearance in a West Virginia uniform despite the fact that play calling was somewhat conservative on the afternoon.
“I was very pleased with how (Grier) operated,” said Spavital, who is in his first season as WVU’s offensive coordinator. “We started with some short touches and then opened it up and took some shots at the end. Overall we accomplished exactly what we wanted.”
Somewhat overshadowed by the performances of Grier and Sills was the play of starting running back Justin Crawford, who finished his day with 69 yards on six rushing attempts. The bulk of that yardage came on the offense’s first drive, when he ripped off a 51-yard touchdown run. On the play, Crawford bounced outside to the right and got in the open field with bandit safety Toyous Avery. All it took was a quick cut back inside that left Avery in the dust and Crawford sprinted into the end zone completely untouched.
“I have to give all the credit to my big boys up front,” said the senior running back. “They opened the gaps and got on their man and it opened things up.
“After that, I stuck to my bread and butter. I got (Avery) to press in his heels and open his hips, and I cut back off of him.”
After the second-team offense stalled out around mid-field, Grier led the Gold squad down the field once again and got the ball inside the Blue team’s 10-yard line, but this time the offense came up empty-handed when Grier and sophomore Martell Pettaway botched a handoff on a draw play. The fumble was recovered by true freshman Derrek Pitts, who earned a lot of first-team reps at the bandit safety position. The fumble was the only turnover of the day and appeared to be a turning point, as it signaled one of several consecutive stops for the defense.
“That definitely gave us confidence for the rest of the day,” said senior Marvin Gross, who filled in as the starting spur safety spot in place of an injured Kyzir White. “We just calmed down and made the plays that we had been making all spring.”
The Blue team went on to stop the offense on the next five drives, including two three-and-outs, and racked up a ton of points in the process (drive stops were worth three points and three-and-outs were worth five in the spring game scoring format).
The Gold team finally put an end to a seven-drive drought at the end of the first half when Pettaway hammered home a three-yard touchdown. While the touchdown will show up in the box score, the drive’s biggest play featured a beautifully thrown 60-yard bomb from Grier to Ricky Rogers on a deep post pattern. The 35-second scoring drive was the last by either offense on the afternoon and defense continued to score with three three-and-outs and a drive stop in the second half.
Gibson, who watched his defense record six drive stops (good for 18 points), a forced turnover (good for six points) and four three-and-outs (that totaled a combined 20 points) was pleased with the overall play of his unit, considering the fact that it was truly the first time it played in a game-like situation together.
“We wanted to see how they would respond with people in the stands, and I thought they did well,” said Gibson. “We didn’t make adjustments or anything on the sideline, but I wanted to be out there with our coaches on the field. This is really the first time we turned them loose and put them in a game-like situation. We have had some scrimmages, but it has all been situational stuff, so today we just wanted to put the ball down and see how they would play and how they would react.”
With just a few minutes remaining in the contest, Dana Holgorsen and Spavital bent the rules a little bit for some alumni fun. They brought out current New York Giants quarterback Geno Smith to run the offense with Kevin White (of the Chicago Bears) out wide flanked by a pair of future pros Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts. Smith connected on an 85-yard bomb to Gibson (that admittedly was half-heartedly defended) and closed the gap to 44-21. After the final touchdown, Holgorsen looked up at the scoreboard with 3:26 remaining and decided to call it a day.