WVU Spring Football: Mountaineers defense shows off new wrinkles, personnel
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Gold-Blue, mold-spew. Yesterday's points-filled exercise, even if it awarded the defense credits for everything but its half-dozen sacks scattered across the Mountaineer Field landscape, easily could be considered pointless. Take West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez's word for it: "The spring scrimmage is not nearly as important as some of the other things we've done this spring."
If nothing else, though, yesterday can be boiled down to a single football point: The Gold offense tallied just two touchdowns and 23 points when it counted, relatively speaking, in this pass-happy scrimmage.
Score one for the defense, colored Blue but perhaps no longer characterized by the verb Blew.
"They did their job keeping us out of the end zone," said Patrick White, hampered by the post-surgery absence of tailback Steve Slaton and a two-hand touch rule protecting the team's top three quarterbacks.
Although four offensive units combined for what was calculated as a 58-30 triumph against four defensive units, with points awarded seemingly for congeniality but somehow not sacks, White and the sans-Slaton first team gathered just two field goals -- by Plum's Pat McAfee from 48 and 42 yards. In all, the first-team offense gathered five first downs and 98 yards in 26 plays against the first-team defense.
"With the new packages they put in, they definitely picked that up and learned it," White said of the defense. "They're fast, you can see that. Competitive."
"I wasn't out there a whole lot last year," said sophomore-to-be noseguard Thor Merrow, a legacy with father Jeff playing the same Mountaineers position, "but everybody's attitude is better, they're just flying around out there. Everybody's just picked it up a notch. You can see a change in everybody's play."
Merrow, a first-teamer who unofficially topped the Mountaineers in fights this spring, had one of the six sacks for a defense that was introduced this spring to a few new wrinkles, a few switches, a few youngsters.
The coaching staff installed more pre-snap movement in the West Virginia defense, another effort to throw off foes more than the 3-3-5 alignment already might. And that formation underwent tweaking as well: a little four-man front, a little 3-4, a little two-deep coverage. ... Not that West Virginia showed much yesterday, not wanting to tip its hand to next fall's opposition. "You're only seeing vanilla versions of it," defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said of the scrimmage. But, Merrow added: "They're great changes."
The key to the defense's ignition remains personnel, though, and Casteel expects to have greater depth next fall. Merrow played on the first-team line alongside Keilen Dykes, Johnny Dingle or James Ingram, with Mt. Lebanon's Doug Slavonic, Scooter Berry and noseguard Chris Neild in ready reserve. At linebacker, the defensive coordinator expects as many as six or seven players could rotate regularly next fall, among them Reed Williams, Johnny Holmes, J.T. Thomas (the first-team trio yesterday), Carmichaels' Bobby Hathaway (moved temporarily to middle linebacker in the post-surgery absence of Marc Magro), Gateway's Mortty Ivy and Ovid Goulborne.
Perhaps the biggest change is the secondary, where Perry Traditional Academy's Eric Wicks is currently at free safety and patrols the defensive rear with fellow safeties Ridwan Malik, Boogie Allen, Charles Pugh and Quinton Andrews, who was suspended for yesterday for undisclosed reasons.
"Third down last fall, we couldn't sub anybody," Casteel said of the contrast at safety.
Rodriguez also praised oft-criticized, front-line cornerbacks Vaughn Rivers of Perry, Larry Williams and Antonio Lewis: "I expect those guys to have big years next year. They all had a good spring."
With spring concluded, though, there is plenty of work still to do by August camp.
"This might be as important a summer as we've had," the coach said, repeating what he told his players. "We could be really, really good. Or we could be average."
NOTES -- Despite the snow, cold and wind for a so-called spring game, Jarrett Brown, White and Adam Bednarik combined to complete 28 of 44 passes for 333 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown from Bednarik to Woodland Hills' Wes Lyons with the third-teamers. ... Brown and the second-team offense moved 70 yards in 10 plays on the scrimmage's second series for the only other touchdown in meaningful play. ... Seton-LaSalle's Carmen Connolly had a team-high five catches for 20 yards, and Lyons had the most yardage with 76 on three catches -- though Rodriguez snarled, "We don't have a first group of receivers; we got a lot of question marks."
First Published April 8, 2007 12:00 am