WVU Spring Game Notebook: Big Crowd Watches Neal Brown Debut

WVU Spring Game Notebook: Big Crowd Watches Neal Brown Debut

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–There was plenty to take away from West Virginia’s Gold-Blue Spring Game on Saturday.

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The least important stat of the day – the Gold, which was comprised mainly of the first-team offense, defeated the Blue, which had much of the first-team defense, 23-7.

Spring game winners and losers as about as important as a Kardashian social media post.

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Martell Pettaway
West Virginia running back Martell Pettaway (32) looks for running room as the defense closes in

Each of WVU’s three scholarship quarterbacks – Austin Kendall, Jack Allison and Trey Lowe – threw one touchdown pass. Kendall, the transfer from Oklahoma, also added a score on a one-yard run.

Kendall completed 7-of-12 passes for 154 yards. Allison connected on 11-of-24 passes for 112 yards, but it should be noted the junior didn’t get much protection, as he was sacked five times. Lowe was 4-of-7 passing for 51 yards, and he also rushed for 21 yards. In addition, walk-on QB Trent Jackson completed 2-of-4 passes for two yards.

At the start of spring practice, Brown said he would announce the winner of the quarterback derby for the starting job when one stepped up and took control of the reins. At the end of spring drills, WVU’s coach stated he was still not ready to name a leader.

“We may have a pecking order after this,” said Brown following the spring game, “but I’m not going to commit myself to anything yet. I think we made progress at quarterback this spring, but I don’t think we’re ready to go play a game.”

He saw both positives and negatives from each of his top QBs.

“Jack, he was a little tight early,” explained Brown of Allison. “(He) missed a post ball. I thought his decision making, at times, was better than has been through the spring. (He) throws a really nice ball. We’ve got to get him not to float around in the pocket. He’s got to move up in the pocket and help his offensive linemen.

“Trey Lowe had some nice runs. I think if we were actually tackling the quarterback, he may have even had a couple that had broken off.

“I thought Kendall did some really good things throwing the ball down the field,” added Brown. “Again he’s got to get the ball out of his hand faster. I think that’s the biggest thing for him. It’s been a long time since he’s played. I think that he got in a rhythm after about the third series, and I thought he did some good things.”

So the quarterback position exits spring with questions.

“Am I ready to crown a winner? Probably not,” said Brown.

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West Virginia’s run game struggled Saturday, as the two teams totaled just 64 rushing yards on 49 attempts, which averages out to only 1.3 yards per carry.

Brown wasn’t ready to criticize his backs for the lack of production in the ground game, though.

“Unfortunately it’s determined in how you block,” he said in regard to his team’s rushing attack. “We didn’t block very well in the run game today. That’s disappointing, because Tuesday in practice we blocked the run game as well as we have this spring. Thursday we were pretty good there, but today I didn’t think we did a very good job.”

WVU’s offensive line was a hamper some by injuries on Saturday. Kelby Wickline, who has been working as the first-team right tackle this spring, was unable to go in the Gold-Blue Game because of an injury, and West Virginia’s most experienced o-lineman, Colton McKivitz, had to leave his left tackle spot midway through the first half because of an injury of his own. Neither injury is regarded as serious, but their absence highlighted WVU’s depth concerns up front.

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The Mountaineer offensive line may still be a work in progress, but one of its members, left guard Michael Brown, earned high praise from his head coach, who referred to the 6-foot-3, 350-pound junior as the team’s most improved player this spring.

“We’re going to give some awards tomorrow at our team dinner, and he’s going to get one of those,” said Neal Brown said of the former junior college transfer. “He’s really improved. You’re talking about a guy who didn’t play one single snap of football in high school.

“I’m really proud of him for how he’s learning the game. He’s still got to drop some weight, but he’s really strong and explosive. He’s really improved as we’ve gone throughout the spring.”

Defensive end Jeffery Pooler has also made significant improvement this spring, his head coach said. Last year as a sophomore, Pooler gained weight and reached 272 pounds to be able to play defensive tackle in WVU’s 3-3 defense. This year, in the Mountaineers’ new system, Pooler has moved outside to defensive end and has been asked to drop weight so he could add speed. The Dayton, Ohio, native is now 6-foot-2 and 258 pounds.

“Pooler has made as many strides – outside of Mike Brown – as anyone this spring,” said WVU’s head coach. “He’s made really steady improvement.”

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West Virginia unveiled new football uniforms at halftime on Saturday.

The biggest change was the addition of grey jerseys and pants, giving the Mountaineers another option in their rotation to go along with gold, blue and white. Every such change is going to generate both positive and negative opinions. Count WVU senior defensive tackle Reese Donahue on the positive side.

“I grew up a Mountaineer fan and watched them my whole life,” explained the Ona, West Virginia native. “I couldn’t tell you the year (2010), because I was young, I remember them having grey uniforms with the Pro Combat helmets. I thought those were awesome.

“To me, the grey extenuates what West Virginia is about,” he added. “I know some people like black uniforms or they like this or they like that. But what is the history of West Virginia? People came and settled here because they mined coal. Only the toughest people came here, and we want that same mentality within our football team. Every time you put that uniform on, you think coal dust. This is what I’m playing for, the 1.8 million people in this state.

“Black is cool, chrome is cool, whatever, but they did a good job creating a uniform that emphasizes what we’re all about.”

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The new uniforms for football will be followed by a redesign of most other WVU athletic uniforms, graphics and signage in the near future. Those will all incorporate similar fonts and styles.

“We’ll be unveiling those in the spring and the summer,” said West Virginia’s assistant athletic director for external affairs Matt Well. “We don’t have (that date) determined quite yet; we’ll work through that plan next.”

Not every change will happen immediately, but as old items are changed out for new ones, all will reflect the new design.

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Of all the stats from Saturday’s game, maybe the most impressive was 18,865.

That was the announced crowd at Mountaineer Field who were on hand to watch the first public exhibition for Brown’s WVU program.

Saturday wasn’t the largest spring game crowd in program history. West Virginia has gone over 20,000 several times in the past. But since 2011, when 22,000 showed up to watch Dana Holgorsen’s first spring game, WVU’s largest crowd for the Gold-Blue scrimmage was 10,000.

The gorgeous weather Saturday certainly helped the attendance, but still 18,865 showed their excitement about the start of the Brown era. That also doesn’t include many who watched on broadcast television and via a live video stream.

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