WVU far from a finished product, Brown cautions
MORGANTOWN (AP) — Neal Brown’s first Gold-Blue Game as the football coach at West Virginia University had the bells and whistles fans are used to for these games.
There was a pre-game ceremony honoring weight room and walk-on standouts, and at halftime the school unveiled new uniforms for next season.
On the field, however, there were far fewer bells and whistles.
The Gold team beat the Blue team 23-7, but the score was secondary to the reps Saturday. Brown said he saw some aspects he liked and some that need more work from the Mountaineers in Saturday’s scrimmage, but emphasized that what was on display Saturday was far from the finished product he expects to hit the field in August when WVU hosts James Madison to open the 2019 season.
“As far as football, I think it was a typical spring game,” Brown said. “I think there were some really good aspects on the field and some things that obviously we need to get corrected before we line up and play James Madison at the end of August. We are a work in progress.”
Many eyes at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday were fixed on the quarterback play. With four players in the mix to replace former Mountaineer standout Will Grier, Saturday was a chance for that group — graduate transfer Austin Kendall, redshirt junior Jack Allison, redshirt freshman Trey Lowe and walk-on redshirt freshman Trent Jackson — to show off in front of an announced crowd of 18,865.
As with most things Saturday, there was some good and some bad to be found in the quarterback play.
Kendall and Lowe played for the Gold team while Allison and Jackson were on the Blue team. Allison was by far the most active passer of the bunch, going 11 of 24 for 112 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Kendall also topped 100 passing yards, going 5 of 8 for 109 yards with a 60-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Simmons late in the first quarter.
“(Allison) was a little tight early,” Brown said. “(He) missed a post ball. I thought his decision-making, at times, was better than has been through the spring. (He) throws a really nice ball. We’ve got to get him not to float around in the pocket. He’s got to move up in the pocket and help his offensive linemen.
“Kendall did some really good things throwing the ball down the field. Again, he’s got to get the ball out of his hands faster. I think that’s the biggest thing for him. It’s been a long time since he’s played. I think he got in a rhythm after about the third series and I thought he did some good things.”
Lowe, who also plays baseball at WVU, finished 6 of 11 for 96 yards with an interception and a late touchdown pass to Dillon Spradling. He ran the ball six times for 13 yards but was stopped several times by touches, rather than tackles, on plays where he appeared to have some room to take off.
“Trey Lowe had some nice runs,” Brown said. “I think if we were actually tackling the quarterback, he may have even had a couple that had broken off.”
Neither team had much success running the ball. The Gold squad logged 31 carries for a total of 81 yards while the Blue team, thanks in large part to five sacks on Allison for minus-33 yards, finished with minus-17 yards total on 17 carries.
Sophomore Leddie Brown, playing for the Gold team, led all players with 34 rushing yards. Some of that is on the running backs, and some of that is one the offensive line.
“We’ve gotten better up front,” WVU offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Matt Moore said. “We’ve gotten better, but I’m still looking for some depth on the offensive line. Running game is still not what we want it to be. It’s come a long way since the first scrimmage, but it’s still not where we want it to be. We’ve just got to continue working on that part.”
In-state products were the standouts on the statistics sheet on the defensive side of the ball Saturday. Stone Wolfley, who came to WVU from Morgantown High, led the Gold team with three tackles and two sacks. On the Blue team, former South Charleston standout Derrek Pitts led the way with four tackles. Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan also logged four tackles for the Blue team while Fairmont Senior High product Jake Abbott was one of a handful of Gold players with two tackles. Exree Loe, like Wolfley, finished Saturday’s scrimmage with two sacks.
“I thought (Loe) really showed out today,” Brown said. “He’s a guy that plays with great energy all the time. He was really productive today. I thought Derrek Pitts has really grown. He is one of our most improved players this spring. Him, (redshirt senior linebacker and Morgantown High product) Shea Campbell and VanDarius Cowan also did some things. I thought Shea Cambell had his best day that he has had this spring.”
Senior cornerback Keith Washington picked off a Lowe pass at one point and would have likely returned it for a touchdown had Brown not blown the play dead before the return. Redshirt senior cornerback Jordan Adams also had an interception, his coming off an Allison pass attempt. Adams, however, was hit with a rare spring game unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for making a throat-slash motion after the play. Brown was not happy about that, to say the least.
“Jordan Adams had a nice pick then had a very immature penalty,” Brown said. “I was glad they flagged it.”
Still, overall, Brown said he was pleased with the entire weekend — from Friday’s festivities through Saturday’s scrimmage and uniform reveal.
“It was just a great weekend to kick-start this new era,” Brown said. “I think this is the start. We can continue to build something here and make it more of an event for the spring game.”
Sophomore defensive lineman Dante Stills, a freshman All-American on the ESPN and The Athletic teams, came up limping on the last play of the first half and was held out of the second half for precautionary reasons, Brown said.
Stills, another in-state product from Fairmont Senior, said it was just a slight ankle sprain and he would be fine.