The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

April 13, 2014

Specials teams shine at Gold-Blue Game

Offense takes 37-27 win over defense in spring finalé

MORGANTOWN — The scoreboard said the Gold (offense) beat the Blue (defense) 37-27 in Saturday’s Gold-Blue Spring Game at Milan Puskar Stadium using a modified scoring system that rewarded the defense for stops and turnovers and the offense for scores.

But after West Virginia University’s final practice of the spring football session, the Mountaineer special teams may have been the true winner.

Senior wide receiver Mario Alford returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, Nick O’Toole averaged 46.7 yards per punt and Josh Lambert was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals, including a 53-yarder in the third quarter.

“I think we were all pretty happy with Lambert hitting a 53-yarder,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “He’s been Mr. Consistency. Nick O’Toole and Mike Molinari punted the ball well, and we got the big return from Mario.”

The only weakness, Holgorsen said, was the punt returns, where Jordan Thompson is still looking to make plays after catching the football.

There were highlights elsewhere, too.

The defense allowed only two offensive touchdowns — a six-yard pass from Paul Millard to Kevin White in the opening quarter and a one-yard pass from Millard to Elijah Wellman late in the final quarter. It held the offense to just 8 of 19 third-down conversions and had 10 tackles for loss and three sacks.

For a unit that allowed 455 yards and 33.3 points per game during a 4-8 campaign in 2013, it was a step in the right direction.

“I’ve been happy with the progress of the defensive line,” said Holgorsen. “Those guys are learning to be unselfish and hold their lines. We have so many guys with experience.

“We have guys on that second level who have played a bunch. But the biggest difference I see is (junior safties) K.J. Dillon and Karl Joseph. Those guys are extremely disruptive off the edge, and (sophomore cornerback) Daryl Worley has been phenomenal this spring.”

The offense didn’t go without making some noise, either.

WVU rushed the ball 42 times for 175 yards, including solid efforts from Dustin Garrison, Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell, who all averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry.

Smallwood also caught two passes out of the backfield, which he turned into 39 yards.

“Wendell’s a really good player,” Millard said. “We try to get him the ball any way we can and let him get up field and make plays. Rushel’s had a good spring, and so has Dustin. We’ve just got to get those guys the ball in space.”

Millard made some plays of his own. He completed 14 of 19 passes for 129 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was sacked only once and didn’t turn it over.

“I thought I improved on some things,” said Millard, who will battle junior college transfer Skyler Howard and Clint Trickett for the starting job this fall. “There are obviously more things I want to keep working on through the fall. I can still improve.”

Howard completed 9 of 13 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown, and Logan Moore, who just made the move to quarterback this spring, completed 10 of 21 passes for 109 yards. He also rushed three times for 35 yards.

The quarterbacks felt a little extra pressure, as Holgorsen took the yellow jerseys off of them and allowed the defense to hit.

“It’s a little harder to defend 11 than 10,” said Gibson, who said the move benefited both the offense and defense. “When that guy was in a yellow shirt and we could tag him, it was much easier. But they wanted to do that. It helps our reads, and it helps them to put the ball down and go play. I think we both got good work out of it.”

Kevin White was the recipient of five passes, turning those catches into 42 yards and a touchdown. Thompson, who’s had great spring games before, caught four passes for 57 yards.

Plays like those, said Bruce, backed up the scoreboard.

“I would say the offense won, because they did score a lot more than we expected them to,” he said. “The defense didn’t get any turnovers, which is a downfall for us.

“But it was fun. We had a lot of good plays on both sides of the ball.”

“You have to have that going back and forth to have a good team,” added redshirt junior tight end/fullback Cody Clay, who caught three passes for 21 yards. “Even in practice, the defense would kill us one day and we’d kill them one day. You have to have that.”

WVU will open the 2014 season Aug. 30 in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta against Alabama.

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Clay, offensive lineman Mark Flowinski and Worley received the Iron Mountaineer Awards prior to the game for their work in the strength and conditioning program. Michael Calicchio, a redshirt senior from Brooklyn, N.Y., won the Tom Nickolich Memorial Award, presented each year by the Blue and Gold News to a walk-on who has distinguished himself through attitude and work eithic.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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