MORGANTOWN – The highlight of WVU’s Gold-Blue spring football scrimmage undoubtedly was when former Mountaineer and current New York Giants quarterback Geno Smith entered in street clothes in the fourth quarter and threw a deep strike to ex-receiver Shelton Gibson for an 85-yard score.
“I was bored,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said afterward. “Were you guys bored?”
It was a fun moment on a mostly cloudy afternoon before 6,415 at Milan Puskar Stadium. But the guy most West Virginia fans turned out to see was Florida transfer and projected starting quarterback Will Grier, who is expected to be eligible despite an unclear NCAA suspension.
What they witnessed from the 6-foot-2 redshirt junior was a very nice day by No. 7, who jogged out with the confidence of — and perhaps slight resemblance to? — former Mountaineer QB Clint Trickett, who was also a transfer from the Sunshine State.
On his very first pass before the WVU faithful, Grier connected with Gary Jennings for a 12-yard gain and finished the game hitting 12 of 18 passes for 202 yards and no interceptions.
He also, though, had no touchdown passes. In fact, the only passing TD put on the scoreboard was that of Smith to Gibson, so the Blue (defense) won the event by 54-21 in the coaching staff’s modified scoring system. The defense scored points for 3-and-outs, drive stops, fumble recoveries, etc.
“It was good to get our guys in some live action and see how they would do with people in the stands,” said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “I thought they did well.”
There were just a couple of notable exceptions. The first was when starting tailback Justin Crawford took a handoff from Grier, went right and then burst into the middle of the field for a 51-yard touchdown. On only six carries, the former junior college All-America selection went for 66 yards. Otherwise, though, the defense ruled — at least with that scoring system.
“The biggest thing — I didn’t make adjustments on the sideline — was to have our defense out there without coaches on the field,” Gibson said. “It was the first time to turn them loose and put them in game-like situations. We’ve had some scrimmages, but it’s all been situational stuff.
“The first series we didn’t tackle real well. We gave up the big run to Crawford, but after that they settled down and played well.”
The one notable defensive absence was projected starting linebacker Xavier Preston. In keeping with Holgorsen’s latest policy of silence on such matters, Gibson simply said, “Yeah, he did not play.” Later, however, he indicated it was “all good.” On offense, lineman Kyle Bosch was limited after seemingly injuring his left leg with 1:47 left in the first quarter. (He did walk off the field, though.)
But back to Grier. WVU officials are confident he’ll be able to play despite the hanging NCAA suspension for using a banned substance while in Tallahassee. On Saturday, he was running the first-team offense with efficiency. Perhaps his finest moment was a 60-yard connection in stride with Ricky Rogers, who outraced safety Shane Commodore.
“He looked pretty good to me,” Holgorsen said of Grier. “He’s as good as advertised. I like the kid’s demeanor. He has complete control of the huddle. Of course, it’s going to be different when it’s live bullets. Obviously we’re protecting him.
“But he has complete control. He has a really good idea of what we want to do offensively. His accuracy is outstanding. And the one thing you can’t see because we’re protecting him is his ability to keep the play alive with his scrambles and some quarterback run game. He’s better at that than you think. Because he has such a good arm, you think he’s just a pocket guy. But he can move around and make some plays.”
“His dad was here and is a coach. He said, ‘Hey, you have to make sure he scrambles to throw because he’s so competitive he scrambles to run.’ We have to protect him.”
David Sills, who was initially recruited as a quarterback, led the receivers Saturday with six catches for 96 yards.
“He’s our most valuable guy now, which is not surprising,” Holgorsen said of Sills. “He’s been doing it every day. He has that starting quarterback mentality. He’s extremely, extremely football smart. That rubs off in the huddle. The connection has been fun to watch. Watching it over the next two years is going to be really fun.”
Among the notable names in the crowd, beside Smith, were some other former Mountaineers now in the NFL — Chicago Bears receiver Kevin White and Philadelphia Eagles back Wendell Smallwood. There were those, however, missing from the game, including Preston, eventually Bosch and backup running back Kennedy McKoy. Holgorsen said the latter had “an upper-body procedure.” He then added McKoy has “had a really good spring.”
Anyway, additions in the fall give Holgorsen confidence.
“I think we’re going to be a completely different team in late August than we are now,” said the coach. “You guys know my injury policy now, but there are 20 guys in the weight room that were not even participating. The long term guys — Ka’Raun [White], Dravon [Askew] and Yodney [Cajuste] — really honestly could have played, but what’s the point?”
Among those new to the roster, both South Charleston freshman Derrek Pitts and George Washington graduate Druw Bowen saw action. Bowen had a catch for 11 yards. Also, 5-foot-5, 168-pound freshman running back Tevin Bush ran with the second offense and had a nice 16-yard rush. He also was back receiving punts and kickoffs.
Overall, a smooth day for WVU.
“Really happy with the way today turned out,” Holgorsen said.