West Virginia defense steps up in Gold-Blue game

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 7:42 p.m.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Don't tell the boss, but West Virginia defensive end Will Clarke can't resist one final look at the 2012 football season.

It's not unlike passing a train wreck.

“It's always in the back of everyone's head,” Clarke said.

But, perhaps, West Virginia's Gold-Blue game on Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium can be the start of putting last season to rest. After all, who wants to remember finishing 108th of 120 FBS schools in yards (472.5) and 114th in points allowed (38.1)?

Certainly not defensive coordinator Keith Patterson.

“You can't live life looking in the rear-view mirror,” Patterson said. “You can't improve if you are looking backwards. We haven't talked one second about what happened a year ago.”

To that end, the first-team defense put its foot down Saturday before an estimated crowd of 8,000. The first-teamers did not allow a touchdown in a 41-33 victory over the offense. The defense received points for drive stops and turnovers.

“We're trying to create a clean slate for ourselves,” said Clarke, a senior from Allderdice.

Clarke will play a big role in that quest. He certainly has the body and athleticism for the job.

“He's got all sorts of talent,” Patterson said. “He's 6-(foot)-6, so it creates leverage and he can move for someone at that size.

“The biggest challenge we posed to Will was to finish plays. He pressures the quarterback and cuts through the line of scrimmage, and now he just has to finish.”

The best part of Clarke's game, according to Patterson and coach Dana Holgorsen, is his ability to set an example. He was named the first three-time winner of the Iron Mountaineer Award, given annually to the top performers in offseason strength and conditioning programs. Wide receiver Connor Arlia and linebacker Isaiah Bruce also were honored this year.

“He has such a positive attitude,” Patterson said of Clarke. “He is not high one day and low the next. He is on a steady incline every day.”

Clarke said he doesn't expect others to follow him; rather, he hopes his teammates will “set their own footsteps” after watching him.

“I try to do the right thing,” he said.

Holgorsen is pleased with how the defense has taken ownership of the team. He hopes the ability to make plays will grow from that mindset.

“We have guys, defensively, that are older, mature and have been through the ringer,” he said. “I like where we're at with our defensive leadership. It's night and day from where we are offensively.”

Speaking of offense, Holgorsen said he is not close to naming a starting quarterback between junior Paul Millard and redshirt freshman Ford Childress.

Millard completed 16 of 27 passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns. Childress was 14 of 21 for 169 and a score.

“I think it resembled football,” Holgorsen said, “but I don't think it resembled high-level football,”

He also was reluctant to praise sophomore wide receiver Jordan Thompson, who caught six passes for 123 yards and three scores. Thompson also played well last spring.

“He will go down in the history books as the greatest spring-game player of all-time,” the coach said. “I haven't seen him play like that in a game yet. Until he does that in a game, we're not going to talk about it.”

Notes: Redshirt junior Travis Bell, who had the game's only interception, has moved from safety to cornerback. ... Thomas Jefferson graduate Pat Eger (ankle), running back Andrew Buie (hamstring) and offensive lineman Adam Pankey (knee) were among those who didn't play.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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