By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It’s over. Dana Holgorsen’s first spring as head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers has concluded.
While Holgorsen guided WVU during the 2011 football campaign, it was Bill Stewart who was head coach during last spring’s drills.
Coming into this spring all eyes were focused on the West Virginia offense after it rolled up 70 points against Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
However, in the annual Gold-Blue game it was the defense which claimed a win as the offense put up just shy of half the points it scored in its last game appearance.
Holgorsen said the team has quite a bit of work to do on both sides of the ball before taking the field against Marshall in the season opener on Sept. 1.
“We’re about 33 percent into where we’re going to be before we have to play the first game,” Holgorsen said. “Our depth is not very good right now, but that will change when you get a whole bunch more kids on your team. So from where we’re at, we’ve got a long ways to go.”
The coach, however, was not fully surprised that the defense came out on top of the spring game.
“The trend lately has been defense getting after the offense for about the last five practices,” Holgorsen said. “I would say the first 10 (practices), offensively we did some good things, but probably, in particular the last five, maybe the last six, defense has been doing a lot better.”
Holgorsen noted that spring is when you evaluate talent and not necessarily go out there to show all your cards. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin got few reps in the spring game, while younger players took the majority of snaps for the Mountaineers and some opened some eyes.
“This is spring and you play everybody,” Holgorsen noted. “If you get right down to it there is probably a collection, offensively, of about 16 people that are actually going to play in a game. Once we figure out who those 16 are, I’ve got an idea of who probably 14 of them are, but once we figure the other two out, I think we’ll be pretty good offensively.
“Two young kids that we talk about a bunch are Jordan (Thompson) and Karl (Joseph). Sean Walters, he started making some plays as well. You know what you’re getting in the Joey Madsens, and the Tavons, and Shawne Alston, Will Clarke, Darwin Cook.
“It’s a lot of the younger kids, watching those guys develop. Dante Campbell made some plays, K.J. Myers has made a few plays and those young guys, they’ve got to just keep coming.”
Thompson was the top receiver in the Gold-Blue game, snagging eight passes for 66 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s fun to watch,” Holgorsen said of Thompson. “They call him ‘Squirt’. He hops up, gets hit as hard as anybody ever gets hit out there and he hops up and bounces around.”
Starting quarterback Geno Smith was 23-of-29 passing for 281 yards and two touchdowns. Backup Paul Millard was 26-of-35 for 253 yards and a score. Smith threw two interceptions and Millard one.
Smith is a known quantity and considered a Heisman Trophy candidate. Millard is still in the learning phase of college football and he continues to impress Holgorsen.
“Paul does a good job making decisions and does a bad job making decisions, but he does a good job of forgetting about it and moving on,” Holgorsen said. “As the quarterback you’re going to make some mistakes and he’s a kid that’ll throw a pick six, but then get out there and make that same very throw again. He’s got a short memory, which is important.”
Last season the Mountaineers lost starting offensive lineman Josh Jenkins for the season with an injury suffered in the spring game. This year no such injuries occurred.
“Fifteen days in the books and we got out of it fairly injury free,” Holgorsen said. “We had some precautions on a few guys, which we planned on doing.
“It’s (injuries) a part of the game though. You can’t protect your guys. Josh’s injury happened to be in the spring game, but Pat Miller got rolled up in practice eight and that’s every bit as devastating as in practice 15.
“It’s a part of the game. You line up, you don’t protect them, you let them play hard. People get hurt when they get complacent and they’re not playing hard, so to speak.”
Ford Childress, freshman quarterback who enrolled at WVU early in January, was recently charged with DUI. Holgorsen said he and his coaches constantly remind the players that they are in the spotlight and need to conduct themselves in a manner that positively reflects West Virginia University and the football program.
“I told them there are a whole bunch of eyes on these guys. That’s just the reality of West Virginia football,” Holgorsen said. “The next three weeks is going to be pretty important because the only thing they’ve got to worry about is school. There is no lifting, there’s no meetings, there’s no media, there no anything just school. And then they go into finals, but once those finals are over it’s vacation time for them.
“This is the only vacation time that they’ve got, three weeks, so we encourage them to take vacations because vacations don’t exist on Thanksgiving because you’re playing games, and it doesn’t exist on Christmas or New Year’s because you’re playing games.
“So we encourage them to get out of here. But with that comes responsibility as well. We just remind them that there’s a whole bunch of eyes of them. If they want to be a part of the program, then they need to do the right thing.”
— Contact Bob Redd