MORGANTOWN — Officially, it was the West Virginia offense that won Saturday’s spring-ending Gold-Blue scrimmage at Mountaineer Field. Four touchdowns and three field goals were more than enough for a 37-27 win over a defense that made almost no big plays and accumulated its points only through a series of rather routine stops.
Why, then, did Dana Holgorsen seem to come away from the Mountaineers’ final workout of the spring singing the praises of that defense?
“The first-team defense I thought played excellent,’’ the WVU coach said after a two-hour scrimmage in front of rather small but sunbaked crowd. “Then we started taking a lot of those guys out. Once we started taking those guys out, that’s when we started moving the ball a little bit.
“As a head coach, that’s kind of what you want to see.’’
It’s what an offensive-minded head coach like Holgorsen wanted to see, of course, because heading into WVU’s third season in the Big 12 it has become painfully obvious that West Virginia needs to play much better defensively. Certainly there are offensive issues to address — not the least of which is a quarterback battle that won’t really begin until this summer — but Holgorsen seemed quite happy with the progress made by that defense.
“The athleticism in the secondary is not even close [to what it has been the past two years],’’ Holgorsen said. “I’ve been happy with the progress of the defensive line. Those guys are learning to be unselfish and hold their gaps. And the second-level guys, we’ve got so many guys with experience.’’
It is those players in the middle and on the back end of the defense that seem to have made the most improvement. The Mountaineers are extremely deep and rather versatile at linebacker, even with Jared Barber and Wes Tonkery sitting out the spring and Brandon Golson sitting out the spring game.
“We’ve got guys on that second level that have played a bunch,’’ Holgorsen said. “But the biggest difference I see is the secondary guys with K.J. Dillon and Karl Joseph and those guys. They’re extremely disruptive.’’
Perhaps the brightest star of the spring, though, is cornerback Daryl Worley. The sophomore from Philadelphia played a big role as the season went on last fall, but this spring he’s advanced to an entirely different level.
“He’s had a phenomenal, phenomenal spring,’’ Holgorsen said. “Mario [Alford, one of the team’s best receivers], his confidence is down a little bit right now because he’s had to go against [Worley]. The kid makes play after play after play.’’
That’s certainly an encouraging sign for a team that has performed so poorly against the pass the last two seasons. It not only makes the defense better, but can’t help but improve the offense as well, working against Worley every day.
“He’s making me better,’’ Alford said. “And I’m making him better.’’
If Alford was suffering from any confidence issues at receiver, though, he probably got a boost from what he did on the first play of Saturday’s scrimmage, taking the kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.
That was one of the four TDs credited to the offense, the others all being short passes. Paul Millard threw two of them, 6 yards to Kevin White and 1 yard to Elijah Wellman near the end of the scrimmage. Skyler Howard threw the other, a 6-yarder to Daikiel Shorts.
Comparing the performances of the quarterbacks, though, was impossible. All three — walk-on Logan Moore was the third — split time almost equally, rotating into the game each series regardless of whether it was the first-, second- or third-team offense on the field.
For the record, Millard was the most efficient, completing 14 of 19 passes for 129 yards and the two touchdowns. Moore went 10 for 21 for 109 yards and Howard was 9 for 13 for 70 yards.
Dustin Garrison (47 yards) and Wendell Smallwood (45) were the game’s rushing leaders and Pitt transfer Rushel Shell had 37 yards. Thirteen receivers and backs caught passes.
BRIEFLY: West Virginia’s three Iron Mountaineer award winners for winter conditioning are Cody Clay, Mark Glowinski and Daryl Worley. The Tom Nickolich Award for the team’s top walk-on went to offensive tackle Michael Calicchio. ... Kicker Josh Lambert had a perfect day that included a 53-yard field goal that had plenty of distance to spare. He also made kicks of 31 and 30 yards.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.