Five Things To Watch For In WVU’s Gold-Blue Spring Game
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–The spring game is a staple of college football on most campuses, though in reality it is a glorified practice.
Still there are plenty of points of interest to take from every encounter that rings down the curtain on the early practices.
Here are the five points that interest me the most for this year’s WVU spring game:
Neal Brown – West Virginia’s new football coach can do little wrong right now in the eyes of Mountaineer fans, and this will be the first time his team will be on public display. Will WVU fans come out in large numbers to watch? Because the spring game is also being televised live around the state, that will likely cut down on the attendance a bit. Still, with the enthusiasm surrounding Brown, you would think a lot of fans would want to be on hand at Mountaineer Field for his first public exhibition. Weather is always a big determining factor in the size of the crowd at a spring game, and the forecast is pretty good for Saturday. The days of getting spring game crowds of 22,000 and 21,029, as WVU did in 2011 and 2010 respectively, are probably over, but I’d still expect a lot of people to show up at Mountaineer Field for their initial look at Brown’s West Virginia squad. It figures to be a joyous celebration in the honeymoon of WVU’s new coach. The next time fans are in the stands at Mountaineer Field, the consequences will be much more serious.
Quarterbacks – Jack Allison, Austin Kendall and Trey Lowe have spent the spring battling to replace Will Grier behind center. To be honest, none of the three have drawn rave reviews for their performances to date, but it’s still early in their learning process. They are still maturing as players, and they are also adapting to a new system and new coaches. Thus their slow progress is understandable, but still at least one of them had better be ready to perform at a reasonably high level by next fall. A solid spring game performance by one or all would give great confidence that they are on the right track.
Receivers – The graduation of David Sills and Gary Jennings has left the Mountaineers without a great deal of experience at the receiver position. With Marcus Simms having missed almost all the spring with what Brown labels a “personal issue,” T.J. Simmons and Tevin Bush are the only available receivers who have seen significant game action in the past. West Virginia does have some promising youngsters at that position, but they just haven’t played much previously. Redshirt freshmen Sam James, Bryce Wheaton, Dillon Spalding and Randy Fields, as well as junior Isaiah Esdale, all had strong moments this spring. Now can they duplicate those efforts with fans in the stands? To have a reasonable rotation at the receiver position in the fall, WVU really needs all hands, both young and old, to be solid contributors. Fans will get a chance to judge on Saturday if they’re capable of doing that.
Pass Rush – West Virginia’s pass defense, which allowed 258.7 yards per game last year, and its sack numbers (29 in 2018), both have been in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 in recent years. WVU hopes for better under new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who followed Brown from Troy. Now admittedly the Trojans’ competition in the Sun Belt Conference pales in comparison to the Big 12, but still Koenning’s defense last year at TU allowed just 219.2 passing yards per game and recorded a league-high 39 total sacks. For WVU, junior college transfer defensive end Taijh and Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan, who recently moved to the Bandit position, are two pass rushers worth watching in the spring game, as are defensive tackle Dante Stills, bandits Zach Sandwisch and Exree Loe and defensive ends Jeffery Pooler, Quondarius Qualls and Tavis Lee. Out of this group West Virginia has to find at least a few strong pass rushers if it wants to survive in the Big 12 in 2019.
New Uniforms – Maybe this category should have been first; at least it should be in the minds of some. Nike has been working with WVU officials for the last year or so to redesign West Virginia’s football uniforms. Their exact look has been a well-guarded secret, but at halftime on Saturday, the new unis will be unveiled. I’ll admit that I’m not one who cares a great deal about uniform style, but a lot of others have strong opinions on such things. To each their own. At about 2:30 Saturday afternoon, the fashion reviews can begin.