Before anyone begins heavy breathing about certain players or units in today’s first West Virginia scrimmage of the season, remember this: The suspect defense, the one replacing seven starters, mostly manhandled the vaunted offense.
In other words, it’s early yet.
Now on to the facts from today on Mountaineer Field. . . .
* The Blue Swarm, as Coach Bill Stewart calls the defense, yielded just one touchdown in 34 full plays from scrimmage. Of course, it was two-time Big East offensive player of the year and resident Heisman Trophy candidate Patrick White who gashed the first-team defense with a 45-yard romp on the first-team offense’s second series, and fourth play, amid an option keeper right. Six plays later, White covered the final six yards. And that was pretty much it for the offense.
White found a wide-open Tyler Urban, the freshman tight end from Norwin, on the unit’s very next play for a 45-yard play capped by Urban lowering his helmet and knocking down the tackling cornerback Ellis Lankster (whom Stewart later kicked off the field and to the sideline for a penchant to “talk too much”). On the ensuing plays, freshman Terence Kerns galloped 42 yards as part of his 64 yards on 10 carries overall, and sophomore Noel Devine broke off a 15-yard option sweep among his 39 yards on five carries in the true scrimmage and 50 on 11 overall (counting goal-line situations). White soon after added a 26-yard out pass to Alric Arnett to finish the true scrimmage 4 for 8 for 81 yards; he added an 18-yard pass to Jock Sanders plus a sack in the goal-line situations.
In the end, Stewart declared the first-team defense a scrimmage victor: “They got nasty. . . . Real, real nasty. It was nice to see they were banging and clanging pretty well.”
* Stewart declared the second-team offense another scrimmage victor, but it played mostly without Jarrett Brown at quarterback – this redshirt junior sat out most of the afternoon with a “slight twinge” of a hamstring. “Just precautionary,” Stewart said. Rather, starting receiver Bradley Starks, the de facto No. 3 quarterback, needed and got plenty of work at his other job. He steered the offense to its only other touchdowns of the afternoon, in goal-line situations: a 9-yard Kerns run almost untouched around left end, and a 5-yard, skinny-post pass to freshman Ryan Nehlen.
“Brad Starks is a natural,” Stewart said. “I’m hoping he can be the starting slot and the third quarterback. That’s the plan.”
* Noel Devine took some hits despite wearing a yellow protective jersey, so it’s readily apparent a backup is necessary. Zach Hulse, who fumbled upon his first carry and subsequently hit the penalty stadium steps, and Mark Rodgers each got one carry of any significance. That left the bulk of the duty to Kerns, who seemed to take a major stride forward in the competition for Devine’s backup relief. Kerns, a 6-foot-1, 239-pound recruit who needed a year and a final academic flourish at Hargrave (Va.) Military to make it to Morgantown, showed both power and some scoot ability in the first live action.
“He looks good,” said first-team linebacker J.T. Thomas. “He looks like a man, know wat I mean? He’s going to bring another element to our already powerful offense. A great change of pace for Devine. This year could be great for him.”
Stewart was reluctant to heap praise, mostly because he was hacked at Kerns for failing to hand the football to an official upon a sideline sweep in a clock situation near the scrimmage’s end. “Bonehead mistake by a freshman,” Stewart barked. “He won’t make that mistake again.” Of Kerns two first-down runs and touchdown and all, Stewart said simply, “Kerns made a few good runs.” And that was that.
* As for the freshmen, Stewart singled out Urban, backup safety Robert Sands, backup guard Josh Jenkins (“looks pretty special”) and rotund second-team fullback Ryan Clarke. Uh, maybe too rotund. “He’s packing an extra suitcase,” Stewart said, “but we’re shedding it ever so slowly. That guy’s a freight train.” Quarterback Coley White, Patrick’s brother, also pleased Stewart despite having to run for his life at times.
* The injury report, in addition to Brown: Backup receiver Wes Lyons of Woodland Hills High had arthroscopic surgery on the same right knee that required a slightly more serious procedure this time a year ago, though the medical staff expects him back within a week; his brother, Ohio State transfer and backup receiver Devin, missed for an unspecified ailment; top-two cornerback Guesly Dervil dislocated a finger and is expected to return Monday, wearing protective padding; starting left tackle Ryan Stanchek (unspecified illness) and tight end Will Johnson (left foot sprain) are expected to practice this week.
* For those seriously wondering about the depth chart. . . The offensive line was the same as late last year, with Seneca Valley’s Don Barclay replacing Stanchek beside Greg Isdaner, Mike Dent, Jake Figner and Selvish Capers. Urban replaced Johnson at tight end. Starks and Jock Sanders appear to be the top two slots, with Dorrell Jalloh, Tito Gonzales and Arnett the top receivers. The first defensive line was Chris Neild between Scooter Berry and Zac Cooper, though Pat Liebig fits in there if the NCAA grants him a sixth year of eligibility. Middle linebacker Reed Williams sat out the scrimmage – he may well miss one game or more until his surgically repaired shoulders full heal – so Pat Lazear started between Thomas and Gateway’s Mortty Ivy. Lankster and Kent Richardson were the first cornerbacks with Quinton Andrews, Boogie Allen and Eain Smith at safety.
Geez, is this a blog or a book? As written above, it’s early yet.