Scrimmage shows WVU offense still needs work
All things considered, West Virginia’s Saturday scrimmage at UC Stadium was probably a win for the offense.
No, it wasn’t the kind of high-powered performance Dana Holgorsen would like to see come fall, but it was at least adequate. And in the spring and with so many new faces being worked into the mix — and with a makeshift roster of quarterbacks — that might be the best that this group can do.
The offense scored four touchdowns and got into position to kick four field goals. In a scrimmage that consisted of 18 different possessions, a near-45 percent scoring rate isn’t bad.
Still, it wasn’t cause for celebration. Only one of those eight scores came on a full-field drive, and it ended in the first of Josh Lambert’s four field goals. A 31-yard touchdown pass from walk-on quarterback Logan Moore to Devonte Mathis and field goals of 37 and 24 yards by Lambert came in red-zone possessions that started at the 25-yard line.
The others — two Dustin Garrison 8-yard runs, a 3-yard pass from Paul Millard to Elijah Wellman and a 45-yard Lambert field goal — came on drives that began at midfield.
And the No. 1 offense did very little before substitutions began blurring the lines between the starters and the reserves. In fact, with junior college transfer Skyler Howard at quarterback, the first three possessions by what constitutes the current starters went three-and-out, six-and-out, then a safety in the end zone when Howard was not only whistled down on a sack, but an end zone hold would have accomplished the same result had he not been sacked.
To make matters worse, the offense also turned the ball over twice, once when Dreamius Smith was clobbered running toward the goal line and then when Moore and Andrew Buie mishandled a handoff and Ishmael Banks returned the fumble 72 yards for a touchdown.
“The two turnovers hurt. Obviously, the handoff with Logan Moore down here sticks out to me. You've got to be able to make a handoff,’’ said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “I don't know whose fault that was, but ultimately it comes down to the quarterback.’’
Dawson was also not pleased with the sacks. The three quarterbacks combined to take five of them.
“I thought we got caught with the ball a couple times. Just put the ball in play,’’ Dawson said. “You're standing back there and you've got to have a clock in your head, especially when you get the ball down here in the red zone. You don't want to go backward. You don't want to be taken out of field goal range. That frustrates me more than anything.
“Taking a sack when they blitz and come wide-open free and you don't have a chance is one thing. But sitting back there and holding the ball for 10 seconds and taking a sack is another. You have to get rid of the ball.’’
On the flip side of that, of course, is that the defensive secondary at times did a good job covering receivers. The three quarterbacks combined to complete 30 of 45 passes for 289 yards, but many were screens and dump-offs or balls thrown underneath the coverage. Only on the TD pass from Moore to Mathis — straight down the sideline — did a receiver get behind the secondary.
In fairness to the offense, though, it is shorthanded at quarterback with Clint Trickett sidelined for the spring after having shoulder surgery. Millard is the only quarterback with any experience at all. He completed 19 of 24 passes for 175 yards. Howard was 5 for 10 for 42 yards and Moore went 6 for 11 for 72 yards.
BRIEFLY: One of the most surprising performances of the day came from Wellman, the freshman from Spring Valley. Playing the same tight end-slot-fullback hybrid position as Cody Clay, he caught three passes for 39 yards. ... Lambert made four of his five field goal attempts, missing only from 55 yards. And that one was long enough but hit the right upright.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.