Third-season West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has been saying it all spring, and Saturday his players proved him accurate as the defensive Blue team throttled the offensive Gold 41-33 in the annual intra-squad scrimmage.
The winner’s points — scored on three-and-outs, stopped drives and interceptions — were not as important as the individual battles, most notably at quarterback where rising junior Paul Millard and redshirt freshman Ford Childress have been dueling. True freshman Chavas Rawlins is also part of the fight, but he did not play Saturday.
Millard was 16 of 27 for 185 yards and three touchdowns. Childress was 14 of 21 for 169 yards and one touchdown.
Each player is fighting for the chance to replace Geno Smith, who set WVU career passing yardage, completions, attempts, touchdowns and total offense records.
“Not only are we not ready to name a starter at quarterback, we’re not ready to do that at about 20 other positions,” said Holgorsen.
Holgorsen, who watched from behind the offensive and defensive huddles, and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson alternated the two quarterbacks in a scrimmage that was broken down into four 10-minute quarters with a running clock.
Millard hit 5-foot-7 Jordan Thompson, who grabbed three touchdowns on the day, with a 10-yard scoring toss; found junior-college transfer Kevin White for a 46-yard TD strike and came back for a 24-yard touchdown to Thompson.
Meanwhile, Childress got the offensive scoring started when he combined with Thompson for a 65-yard bomb with 7:36 showing in the first half.
New kicker Josh Lambert contributed extra points after the four touchdown passes. Lambert also had field goals of 39 and 47 yards.
Thompson caught six passes for 123 yards, a welcome sight for Holgorsen after the departures of dominating receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
White caught five passes for 72 yards. Connor Arlia of Weirton caught four for 39 yards and freshman Daikiel Shorts grabbed four for 31 yards.
“(Thompson) had a good game last spring, too. He will go down in the history books as the greatest spring-game player of all-time,” said Holgorsen with a laugh. “Until he plays like that in a game, we’re going to call it like it is. I haven’t seen him play like that in a game yet. Until he does that in a game, we’re not going to talk about it.”
As Holgorsen works in a new quarterback for the season’s first game, Aug. 31, at home against William & Mary, a renewed ground game could help, too.
Dustin Garrison, who rushed for 207 yards last season as he continued to recover from knee surgery led all rushers with 51 yards on seven carries. Junior-college transfer Dreamius Smith carried seven times for 38 yards and true freshman Wendell Smallwood ran seven times for 25 yards.
“It felt great,” said Garrison. “That was really my first time performing in front of everyone again, and it’s just fun. It’s just fun to be back out there and not have to worry about my knee hurting or making a play or anything like that. It just feels great to just go out there and be 100 percent carefree about it.”
Starters Andrew Buie (running back), Pat Eger (center) and Isaiah Bruce (linebacker) were held out of action because of injuries.
As Holgorsen seeks a starting quarterback and productive receivers, he is also looking for improvement from a defense that finished 114th in points allowed and 108th in yards allowed in 2012. Toward that end, seven Mountaineers registered four or more tackles, led by Sean Walters and Shaq Petteway with five each.
Kyle Rose had two sacks, K.J. Dillon broke up two passes and Travis Bell added an interception