Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

April 12, 2013

Defensive issues more important than quarterback at WVU

BLUEFIELD — One week from today the West Virginia University Mountaineers will hold the annual Gold-Blue game at Mountaineer Field. A year ago excitement was in the air as the Mountaineers were in a new conference, there were two potential Heisman Trophy candidates on the team and some people had true expectations of playing for a national championship.

Fast forward 12 months and there is little excitement around the Mountain State after a 7-6 season. There are two untested players battling for the quarterback position, and WVU’s top three playmakers, Tavon Austin, Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey are all waiting to hear their names called in just over a week in the NFL draft.

In a news conference earlier this week head coach Dana Holgorsen made it known that just because he was releasing a depth chart did not mean those people were the starters. According to the Mountaineer coach, “I figured I would make it a little easier on our media relations department. We have a tremendous relationship with our media relations staff, so I figured I would make it a little bit easier for them. They needed something for the spring game that will serve as a tentative depth chart...”

I’m sure Mike Montoro and my old buddy Mike Fragale are breathing much easier now.

Paul Millard and Ford Childress have been battling for the starting quarterback job and according to Holgorsen the two will split time in the spring game.

“We will mix them up. What we hve been doing in the previous 11 practices is Paul will go with the first team, then Ford will go with the first team. Not only do they switch, but the receivers rotate. The linemen will also go back and forth. We keep the quarterback with a specific center, and that changes every other practice,” Holgorsen pointed out. “We will keep doing the same thing during camp. Spring games are tough. You want it to look good for the fans that came. It is going to be a festive day and we want it to resemble football.”

In 2012 to say the Mountaineer defense was a disappointment is a being kind. One of the bright spots at times on that unit was Isaiah Bruce, with whom Holgorsen feels has room to grow, saying “He is not close to his ceiling.”

Holgs went on to say, “Every young kid that played on defense last year ought to be better this year, or they are not doing something right.”

For West Virginia’s sake every young kid that played on defense last year HAS to be better this year. The WVU defense was the worse the school has had in probably more than 40 years. Even during the Frank Cignetti years when wins were at a premium, the defense could hold its own until deeper teams such as Penn State, Pitt, Syracuse and Maryland wore them down. Last year there was no wearing down. It was off to the races from the get-go.

While there is much concern and many questions over the quarterback position, the biggest question and concern Mountaineer fans should have concerns the defense.

The most prolific offense in school history could not score on every possession, which is what WVU needed last season. The defense is going to have to learn how to cover and tackle, plain and simple, or else it is going to be a dreadfully long football season in Morgantown.

Bob Redd is a Daily Telegraph sportswriter. Contact him at bredd@bdtonline.com.

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