Holgorsen impressed by defense's improvement in WVU spring game

Bob Cohn
| Saturday, April 12, 2014, 6:12 p.m.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Mario Alford provided the big highlight, returning the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in West Virginia's Gold-Blue game Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium. Then things followed script for an intrasquad scrimmage in April: some good, some bad, some hope and a few questions left unresolved.

The record will show the Gold (offense) scored 37 points and the Blue (defense) 27, according to an unconventional scoring system. In his first public “game” action with the Mountaineers, Pitt transfer and former Hopewell star Rushel Shell rushed for 42 yards on eight carries. About 10,000 fans showed up, seated only in the west bleachers.

“I think we got about what we needed to get done,” said coach Dana Holgorsen, who will start his fourth season coming off a 4-8 record. “I thought the tempo was good. The first-team defense, I thought, played excellent. Once we started taking those guys out, I thought offensively we started moving the ball a little bit.”

The defense has been less than stout the past two seasons, but Holgorsen is convinced it will be better.

“Athleticism in the secondary is not even close,” he said. “I've been happy with the progress in the defensive line. Those guys are learning to be unselfish and hold their gaps. And the second-level guys (linebackers), we've got so many guys with experience.”

“I think we could use more improvement, but overall I think we had a pretty good day,” linebacker Isaiah Bruce said. “Everybody's getting to the ball quick.”

Holgorsen allowed the defense to get after the quarterbacks, a practice most programs avoid. He said it helped on both sides of the ball.

“It's fun watching those guys get hit,” Holgorsen said. “They weren't making the progress we wanted. And about six days ago we said, ‘Let's let 'em get hit.' The sense of urgency picked up. It's really going to be good for our defense. How many teams do we face that's gonna run their quarterbacks a bunch?”

All three Mountaineers quarterbacks participating in spring drills — Paul Millard, last season's part-time starter; junior-college transfer Skyler Howard; and walk-on Logan Moore — had varying degrees of success. But nothing will be settled until the fall, when Clint Trickett, who also started last year but is recovering from shoulder surgery, and freshman William Crest show up.

“We're gonna have to come up with a plan. We're gonna have to narrow it down,” Holgorsen said.

Millard was 14 of 19 for 129 yards and two touchdowns, and Howard was 9 of 13 for 70 yards and one touchdown.

Josh Lambert kicked a 53-yard field goal.

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BCohn_Trib.

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