Asti: What I’ll be Watching During West Virginia Football’s Spring Game
The annual WVU Spring Game, more affectionately knows as the Gold-Blue Game, is something West Virginia fans look forward to every year. It’s an opportunity for those without access to get a look at the early stages of the team that they will watch on the field that Fall.
This year’s edition comes in preparation of one of the most important seasons in recent memory. If head coach Neal Brown doesn’t produce an improvement over the 5-7 season from 2022, the Mountaineers will likely turn the page to a new era for the program.
Despite the obvious pressure on the 2023 season, there are questions that need answered before kickoff in State College. With the Spring Game, it’s now time to close up Spring ball and see if any of those questions appear more clear.
What to Watch in WVU Spring Game?
First off, and what most people are undoubtedly going to be focused on above all else, is the competition between Garrett Greene and Nicco Marchiol. At this point, Brown, offensive coordinator Chad Scott and passing game coordinator Sean Reagan have all publicly offered their evaluations of both quarterbacks.
And taking into account what they are clearly focusing on, I will be watching the decisions both make. Everyone knows they can make plays and both offer a dual-threat mobility WVU hasn’t had in years. But it’s clear the competition may come down to which quarterback takes better care of the ball and will be less of a risk to hurt the team.
Neal Brown Points to Decision Making as Possible Factor in WVU’s QB Competition
This will be a bigger point of emphasis for Greene since he’s widely believed to have the edge over Marchiol due to experience, but he’s also the one who has made more mistakes during practices.
In addition to just decision making, I will be interested to see if they can find the second or third read on a play when necessary. Do they just immediately resort to using their legs when a play breaks down or can they find another option through the air. While West Virginia will likely live and die on the ground, there has to be a threat of some complex passing beyond just who the play was drawn up for or the offense will appear too predictable for opponents.
How Does WR Devin Carter Look?
There are other new features to the WVU offense besides opening a season with a new starting quarterback. Newcomer Devin Carter was brought in off a personal relationship with former Mountaineer Bryce Ford-Wheaton and due to his vast college experience at the Power Five level with North Carolina State. He’s in Morgantown to be the number one receiver.
Every coach that’s talked about Carter, from Brown, to Scott and wide receivers coach Bilal Marshall has raved about his athletic ability and leadership qualities. It’s been everything you want to hear about a new top receiving target. He’s also showed it in practice as well. But the Spring Game will now provide a chance to see him in game-like action for the first time.
Blocking to be Key for Running Backs
It’s obvious the West Virginia running back room has a surplus of running backs who can run. That goes without saying. The incumbent backs proved it last season as the most successful part of the Mountaineer offense in 2022. Each of them have praised freshman Jahiem White as well.
WVU OC Chad Scott on Jahiem White (@JahiemWhite_305): “He’s very fast. He’s very talented. He’s special with the ball in his hands. I just like the way he went out there and played. He did it with confidence.”
— Mike J. Asti (@MikeAsti11) March 21, 2023
So I’ll be paying more attention to how well they each can block. It might sound boring, but they can’t all be out there racking up yards every game. Some will be used in a blocking role at times, especially if multiple backs are on the field at the same time. Pretty much everyone needs to be able to block in an offense predicated on running, but some of these running backs will be asked to do more blocking than in the past with the gear turned up on the ground attack mentality.
Has the Defense Perfected the Basics?
With so much attention on the offense, the 2023 Mountaineers may go as far as their defense can take them. And the West Virginia defense has to be much better than it was a season ago or this team won’t have much of a chance to be competitive.
The plan for the coaches is to fix the fundamentals and get the defense back to perfecting the basics of the game. That plan started this Spring and will continue to Fall camp. The coaches have said they feel it’s been working and Brown predicted the defense to be better at tackling and closing gaps. He believes simple tackling issues caused big plays to go against his team far too often.
Neal Brown Likes Progression of Defense, Knows There’s Still Room to Grow
Since the defense is being directed to take the Spring Game seriously, it will be evident just how successful the “getting back to the fundamentals” plan has been on Saturday.
Kicking and Field Position
WVVU special teams coordinator Jeff Koonz is tasked with putting together a new social teams unit in 2023. This means improving one aspect and having to replace another.
With Casey Legg and his accuracy deciding to forgo his extra year of eligibility and retire, West Virginia brought in Michael Hayes as a transfer from Georgia State. Hayes was added for his booming leg, but distance doesn’t matter if it doesn’t come with accuracy. Can he follow up Legg and keep place kicker a strength?
Just as important as the kicker is the return game, which means improving the field position the offense starts drives with. Specials team coordinator Jeff Koonz has been blessed with several options to use, but picking the right guy is incredibly important. Who WVU use the most in that spot in the Gold-Blue Game? How many different possible returners will see action? Those are questions I will have my eyes on.
Jeff Koonz Details Plan for Special Teams, Sees Ja’Shaun Poke as Solid Returner Option
The other end of field position is forcing opposing teams to begin drives as far back in their own territory as possible. That was a problem early on last season. Koonz acknowledged that preventing big returns did improve as the year progressed, but a few of the unselfish star players who helped out on special teams are no longer around.
The Gold-Blue Game is Here
The score doesn’t really matter. No one should care which team wins. However, the 2023 Gold-Blue Game lends itself for plenty of intrigue and could help fans realize what they are in store for once summer is over.