Recapping WVU’s Gold-Blue Game
After an exhaustive series previewing each of the Mountaineers’ position groups, we capped off our Spring preview series by taking a look at the Spring Game. Now that fans saw their first live-action from the team since the Liberty Bowl, we are recapping WVU’s Gold-Blue Game.
New Format for a New Culture
Now going into his third season as West Virginia’s head coach, Neal Brown firmly grasps the nuances of the blue-collar culture he seeks to establish in Morgantown. Clearly, Brown thinks in groups of three. Prior to the Spring, he focused on three areas of team improvement: strength, discipline, and mental toughness. The overarching theme of his team culture looks at family, faith, and football. And prior to the Gold-Blue Spring game, he focused again on three items. He looked for his team to have fun, compete, and play clean football.
In that vein, he used a different format for the 2021 version of WVU’s Gold-Blue Game that can also be grouped into three things: skill competitions (fun), scrimmages (to compete), and rewards (to acknowledge football accomplishment). One particular drum Brown has beaten most often is the oft-overlooked third phase. Brown seeks improvement, accountability, and leadership on special teams.
No surprise then that Brown began the day with three drills, and two of them focused solely on special teams. As analyst Dale Wolfley remarked before the game, for these Mountaineers, “it’s an honor to be on these special teams.” That is the culture Brown seeks to impose, and that is the culture he is building. From veteran team leaders to walk-on players competing for time, fans saw plenty of action from those units.
Perhaps most interestingly, fans saw an early look at the ongoing battle for field goal kicker. Evan Staley has been injured during the Spring, so Danny King and Casey Legg suited up to kick. In the field goal competition between the two, both hit true at 49 yards from the left hash. Unfortunately, both also just barely missed once they pushed outside of 50 yards.
Promising Individual Performances During Gold-Blue Game
While we certainly do not want to exclude others who made some very good plays at times (Kaden Prather, Leddie Brown, Tony Mathis, A’varius Sparrow, Drew Joseph, and Naim Muhammad come to mind), there are five players we thought stood out for various reasons.
Several players made some big plays during WVU’s Gold-Blue game that require a second look. First, as we noted in our game preview, we looked for Cowan to break through and show the talent that earned him a high-four-star rating out of high school. Cowan, unfortunately, faced a series of injuries since he transferred to West Virginia. He has, however, looked healthy this Spring, and the staff talks him up routinely. Cowan did not disappoint in front of fans, showing his playmaking ability. Cowan found himself in the backfield multiple times in the early action. His play stood out to Wolfley who remarked, “this is a good sign for WVU.” Indeed, it is.
Wright continued to play his role as the team’s leading wideout. Now sporting former receiver T.J. Simmons‘ jersey number (one), Wright played his part well, catching a handful of passes (dropping only one), including an acrobatic first-down catch on the Gold team’s second possession. The chemistry between Wright and quarterback Jarret Doege is apparent. Indeed, Wright offers a sure-handed target all over the field for the Mountaineers. For his effort, Wright earned a staff award (along with Isaiah Esdale) for being one of the two most productive offensive players this Spring.
Daryl Porter, Jr.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Porter, Jr., also saw a productive afternoon. On a well-placed throw to the end zone by Garrett Greene to Sam Brown, Porter went up and picked off the pass. Greene and Brown both played their roles well on the play, but Porter came up with the ball on a solid play. Porter added two pass breakups in the game.
Speaking of Brown, he played a solid game himself. While the stat sheet may not reflect it (Porter also broke up another solid touch pass to Brown), Brown ran his routes extremely well. He certainly possesses all the tools needed for him to have a great career in Morgantown. He finally got his opportunity to reach pay dirt late in the game on a deep bucket throw from Will Crowder. Plenty of big plays are in Brown’s future.
Mesidor also played a good game as fans caught their first glimpse of him on the inside. Together with Dante Stills, Mesidor put plenty of pressure on Doege against a front that really played well. Given the season he strung together as a true freshman, fans were perhaps surprised when Mesidor earned one of two staff awards for being the most improved player on the defense (Cowan also won this award).
First Look at the Offensive Line
We have talked up the staff’s efforts to revamp the offensive line during this offseason. Now, we got our first look at the unit on the field during WVU’s Gold-Blue game. In his post-game remarks, Brown said that he has six linemen who are game-ready. The comment surprised us because we saw both the blue and gold units play well up front.
Playing against a veteran defensive front with plenty of talent, the units paved room both inside and outside the tackles for the running backs. Outside of a handful of plays where the defensive fronts poked through (as they should), the lines generally gave the quarterbacks enough time to scan the field and make the right throws. In short, the offensive line looked significantly improved.
We expect that Brown’s “six” refers to Brandon Yates, Parker Moorer, Jordan White, Zach Frazier, Doug Nester, and John Hughes. But we also think Tairiq Stewart and James Gmiter have shown and will continue to show signs of growth and maturity. One player who caught our eye was Moorer. Moore played right tackle more most of his snaps, but the staff also rotated him at guard. Indeed, as promised, the staff rotated a few bodies at different spots on the line.
Regardless of who else steps up to challenge for starting spots and spots in the rotation, the efforts up front certainly pave the way for increased expectations from the unit going into the 2021 season.
The Quarterbacks: Not a Competition . . . Yet
Competition is certainly good. Coach Brown often refers to competition and adversity hand in hand, and he looks for players who rise to the level of competition and play through the adversity he creates. Simply, this represents coach-speak for letting the cream rise to the top. We continue to hope that, at least behind the scenes, Greene and Will Crowder continue to push themselves to the point of creating competition at the position.
During WVU’s Gold-Blue game, Doege’s performance started off less than promising. Indeed, his first throw almost resulted in an interception. Almost. He rushed a throw facing heavy pressure from the duo of Mesidor and Stills. After that, he settled in. In fact, Doege completed his next nine pass attempts. On the tenth, he threw a nice fade to the corner of the end zone. On the field, they called the pass incomplete out of bounds, but, after watching the replay, it certainly looked like Bryce Ford-Wheaton caught the throw for a touchdown. After that, Wright dropped a clean pass from Doege, his only drop of the game.
Brown’s comments on Doege, that he improved his pocket presence over the past few months, seem justified. Doege even made several plays with his legs. At the end of the first half, Doege even sold a good fake and scampered in for a touchdown.
Greene, one of the winners of the Juice Awards, played with poise himself. After shaking the first-possession jitters, Greene threw a nice deep ball for 51 yards to Prather. Between the two, it is hard to argue against the fact that Greene throws the better long ball or that Greene possesses more dual-threat talent. For now, though, Greene still looks the part of a young gunslinger. He will make plenty of plays that impress. On the other hand, he will also make plenty of mistakes. Still, we expect that Brown will manage the reps and give Greene freedom to make big plays and make mistakes and time moves on. Until then, Greene represents a very promising future.