On Saturday afternoon, the Mountaineers held their first Spring Game of the Neal Brown era. If attendance was any indication, fans are indeed excited about their new Head Coach. Just under 19,000 fans attended, making it the third-largest crowd in the history of the event. After taking it all in, here are our five thoughts from the West Virginia Mountaineers’ Spring Game.
The Quarterback Play Shouldn’t Worry Anyone
Both Austin Kendall and Jack Allison started off slowly, and neither really showed dominance at any point in the affair. That said, both flashed brilliance at times, as well. Trey Lowe also had some great moments. Nonetheless, fans have come to expect a high-octane offense in Morgantown, and commentary during the game demonstrated impatience with the signal callers.
It is worth remembering, however, that the Mountaineers are breaking in a whole new offense, and they are also replacing three of their best receivers from last season. Historically, the offense has almost always looked rusty in the Spring. The new offense only exacerbates the trend.
Both Kendall and Allison barely missed on several passes. With a few minor adjustments, those near-misses become big plays. And if we add those to the stat sheets, the numbers improve drastically. As the players work together during summer workouts and into fall camp, the timing will only improve. As it does, the offense will no doubt start to churn.
The Young Receivers Look Promising
Sam James played in a few games towards the end of last season. Because of the new rules, however, James did not lose his redshirt. In that limited time, he certainly looked the part of a field-stretching Big 12 receiver. Brown has mentioned James several times this Spring, and fans saw his play-making ability early and often Saturday. All told, James hauled in four receptions for over 80 yards. He showed the speed, agility, and concentration to assure himself a heavy role in the offense moving forward. He was, without doubt, Kendall’s favorite target.
Ricky Johns’ name was also called a lot on Saturday, as Allison favored Johns throughout. The chemistry between the two was apparent, but their timing needs work. As that improves, Johns will build on his 3-for-33 showing this weekend. Finally, Dillon Spalding hauled in a nice throw from Lowe late in the fourth quarter for the final touchdown of the game.
The Offensive Line is a Work in Progress
We have heard repeatedly this Spring that the Mountaineers’ offensive line needed work. That was on display Saturday, especially during the first half. The offensive line simply could not generate push. The running game suffered most, as the backs only tallied a handful of positive plays during the half. The pass protection was also spotty, especially the second unit, as Allison was pressured almost every play.
Now, the Mountaineers replace several bodies and some of the line’s depth will, for better or worse, be filled out by the incoming freshman who arrive this Summer. The line also bears a lot of the weight of the schematic adjustments, and communication has been lacking so far. This is another unit that will benefit from time. That said, the inconsistent play arguably remains the biggest question mark for the team next season.
The Defense Has Already Improved
Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning is replacing the 3-3-5 that Tony Gibson favored with a 4-2-5. This means that several players are learning new roles and new positions. But the transition already shows promise. In particular, the Mountaineers’ front was able to create far more pressure than it did at any point last season. While some of that may be attributable to the offensive line play, it takes two, and the defensive front certainly looked the part.
The defense also looked better fundamentally, as players closed gaps and wrapped up tackles very well. The position groups on the defense also played well together, celebrating each others’ accomplishments and moving as a cohesive whole. As a result, the defense consistently converged on the ball. In fact, outside of a handful of plays, the defense played aggressive, mistake-free football. This could represent a bright spot on the team almost immediately.
The New Uniforms Look Clean
At halftime, the Mountaineers unveiled their new uniforms for the 2019 season. In some respects, the uniforms changed very little. That said, there are just important adjustments. The much maligned pick-axe number font is now gone. And the accents on the jerseys have also been redesigned and minimized. Altogether, the uniforms have a much cleaner look. See for yourselves:
New uniforms, who dis? 👀 pic.twitter.com/h6RoD0fgiJ
— WVU Mountaineers (@WestVirginiaU) April 13, 2019
The Mountaineers also surprised fans with a special gray jersey that honors the state’s coal mining heritage with a fresh look. Regardless of whether fans ultimately celebrate the new uniforms, players seemed excited. In fact, Karl Joseph, who modeled the gray jersey, said he wished the uniforms looked that way when he played. In all, the Mountaineers Spring game offered our first real look into the Neal Brown era.