Re-energize Fan Interest

MORGANTOWN – Willie Nelson said it best when he coined the phrase – “On the road again.”

West Virginia University head football coach Dana Holgorsen is attempting to use the road now to re-energize fan interest in his Mountaineers after back-to-back disappointing campaigns.

“Everyday there’s improvement,” said Holgorsen following prior to last Saturday’s open practice at Mountaineer Field. “The thing I have liked is their energy. Every single practice they’ve been very spirited. Hopefully, we can keep that up.

“Spring practice does get to be a little redundant, but we’ve done some different things, and we’ve got a lot of guys who are having a good time competing.”

Fans will now get their final opportunity to witness the Mountaineers in action at 1 p.m. on Saturday when WVU travels to the Mountain State’s capital to practice at the University of Charleston’s Laidley Field.

“They (the players) are in the right frame of mind,” continued the coach. “We’re going to show improvement each and every time we get out here. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the amount of energy that these guys have been playing with.”

Three areas in particular that fans will be watching will be at quarterback and running back on the offensive side of the football as well as a defense that has gone from being one of the most dominant in the now-defunct Big East to bottom of the barrel in the Big 12.

“I think every head coach wants to use their philosophy on all three sides of the ball. Right now, the continuity on offense that I have with the coaches is good. Defense is the same, and on special teams with Joe (DeForest), I’ve been very happy from a coaching perspective.”

The quarterback battle won’t be answered by the end of spring drills with last year’s primary starter Clint Trickett sidelined while recovering from shoulder surgery.

But, senior Paul Millard, who played in seven games and started four, and junior college transfer Skyler Howard have each taken turns making plays – and mistakes.

Running back appears to be in the same boat as last year’s leading rusher, Charles Sims, is awaiting to hear his name announced during the upcoming NFL draft.

Junior college transfer Dreamius Smith came into the spring as the leader in a crowded pack that includes 2012 leading rusher Andrew Buie, University of Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell, sophomore Wendell Smallwood and junior Dustin Garrison.

“You really can’t tell who is first or second team at the quarterback and running back because we are rotating guys in and out,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “You can pinpoint the new guys out there because they are struggling.

“The guys who have been here for a while are playing better. That’s the way it is everywhere.”

Defensively, WVU is attempting to remain multiple, but at the same time simplify things so players can make more plays.

“Last year, it was too multiple,” said Holgorsen. “It was still an odd defense, but we were doing too many different things. The one thing Tony (Gibson) has done a good job with is getting it a little more simplified.

“When we run offensive plays, watch the defense line up. I’ve been really impressed with how quick they lined up. We face so many high-tempo offenses that we need to be able to do that. I think they’re doing an excellent job with that right now.”

Gone are the field and boundary corners. Instead, Gibson has elected to dial back the schematics. West Virginia will still possess multiple packages, from fronts to blitzes to third downs and goal line situations. But, there will be a bit less disguise at times.

Something junior linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski likes.

“Being multiple on defense is very important,” said Kwiatkoski. “Everyone can run a certain defense, but if you can come out with different things and different formations, you will be fine.

“It’s a very big thing in the Big 12 because you see so many different offenses. You have teams with fast quarterbacks, run games and fast games.”

Mountaineer fans will be looking to see all of those, and more, when they greet West Virginia on Saturday.