MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The 2021 Gold-Blue Game was all about fan entertainment. Head coach Neal Brown opted for a mix of drills, scrimmages and contests last spring. Former WVU hoops guard Deuce McBride even appeared in a football jersey and competed in a quarterback competition.
This time around, the spring game will follow a more traditional format. The Mountaineers will split into two teams and scrimmage at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“We are going to do some ones vs. ones work during that time and we may not tackle the whole time because I think that is where you have to be careful. It’s more of an exhibition, so you don’t want to get people hurt in an exhibition, but for the young people who haven’t performed in the stadium in front of a crowd, it’s a really important evaluation,” Brown said. “I like the competition piece of it. We tried to have fun with it last year. This year, it’s going to be more of a true game.”
Brown added the teams will also have a separate locker room pregame and run out on the field as two teams.
When it comes to deciding the format for the spring game, the head coach said it “depends on where you are at as a football team.” With this year’s focus being situational awareness, it will be more beneficial for Brown and his staff to evaluate the team in live-action.
The emphasis on offense is on running backs and quarterbacks. The goal is to see how the ball carriers handle getting tackled and how the gunslingers handle the pressure of playing in the stadium.
“I think the thing you are trying to see the most is how they perform with people in the seats. That’s a different feeling and for some of the guys, it’s something they don’t have much experience in so I think you can get a lot out of that,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “You want to see their composure.”
In the backfield, redshirt junior Tony Mathis leads the charge as the player with the most experience at West Virginia, while Lyn-J Dixon has four seasons at Clemson on his resume. Sophomore Justin Johnson saw limited action for the Mountaineers last season and redshirt freshman Jaylen Anderson adds more depth to a talented room.
Redshirt sophomore Garrett Greene, redshirt freshman Will “Goose” Crowder and highly-anticipated freshman Nicco Marchiol are competing for the role of QB1. Former Georgia signal-caller JT Daniels committed to the program earlier this month but has not officially signed with the program.
With WVU’s season-opening opponent right up I-79 and the game being broadcast on ESPN+, just how much of Harrell’s newly installed offense will be on display?
“I don’t really get paranoid about that stuff. I know people do, and there are probably some people here that do. We will have a discussion and figure out what we want to put out there — how vanilla we want to be or how much we want to show. I’m good either way,” Harrell said. “I think the key is let’s go execute no matter what we call. Whether we throw the whole package out, whether we just run two plays. Let’s execute them at a high level. The key is to go out there and do your job at a high level.”
Defensively, the head coach will be keeping an eye on how the secondary communicates. Except for redshirt senior cornerback Charles Woods, the Mountaineers will feature a slew of newcomers in the backend. Redshirt freshman Davis Mallinger has impressed at the spear position, and so have sophomore Aubrey Burks and Murray State transfer Marcis Floyd at safety.
Brown said on Tuesday he isn’t ready to give a full evaluation of where his team is at until after they play Saturday, but believes the defensive backs are the most improved position group.
“What I harp to the guys is we get 15 (spring practices), and we are going to use all 15,” Brown said.