Morgantown – The day started with gray skies and rain and continued forecast throughout the day.
It was only fitting that the Blue-Gold Spring game would be played at Milan Pushkar Stadium because you can rest assured that the prediction in the pre-season magazines and polls for the upcoming football season will be slightly different than that of the Mountaineers.
But a strange thing happened. The rain stopped, the front continued, and by the time the scoreboard put up the final numbers giving the Blue a 56-51 victory over the Golds, the sun was shining, the kids on the field were messing around and you had the feeling that things weren’t as bad as you might imagine.
The game itself was a three-ring circus, but without the clowns. There was fan participation, there were big plays, and there was basketball player Jimmy Bell Jr.’s debut as a football player as the tall man at center offensive line.
Bell showed his inexperience as he gave up his sack and was called for the game’s only penalty kick, a snag when being hit on a play. His fate will be discussed between Brown and Bob Huggins next week.
For everyone involved, it’s set up for fun – and from the moment quarterback Garrett Greene took the snap to start the sixth play of the game, delivered it, and saw it reflected across a lateral to Preston Fox, who in turn unleashed a pass down the field that wound into the hands of… .
Garrett Green, who ran it in the final yards of what turned out to be a dunk doodle (now there’s a word you don’t see often, or two?) 40-yard touchdown.
Oh, they celebrated that theme and today’s theme.
“They’ll get some rep rehearsals on that now, right?” Brown laughed. “I told (offensive coordinator) Chad (Scott) and (quarterbacks coach) Sean (Regan) to make sure they both have some fun. The guys love to play trick games, so this is one they’ve been working on for a few days.”
In fact, the game started early, much earlier than that play, the players all arrived dressed in their finest clothes for a costume challenge, points awarded, the game starts with the score on the board at 7-4, though I’m not sure That I remember who was ahead but it doesn’t really matter in this game.
There was a little bit of everything. There was fan engagement with Greene mixing in his touchdown pass and touchdown reception on the day as he went 8-for-11 throwing for 156 yards, throwing another TD for what looked like a 9-year-old or so in a fan challenge.
After he wobbled but got it back, Green ran up to him and hugged him and the entire team came to congratulate him.
Fan elements stopped play on a number of occasions, once for a pass protection exercise between two college-aged rivals who ended up showing how difficult this part of the game was and then there was a field goal-kicking contest that was as entertaining as the game itself.
Two young women, kicking from the goal line, had three kicks in the goal. The first had a wide left but the second dug last for her, and the third was high and straight, deep enough that it might be good from the 7 or 8 yard line.
Along the way, there were a few GatorAde pigeons, one for the coach they call “Big Red,” and defensive line coach Andrew Jackson and defensive end Eddie Vesterinen, after a good defensive play, engaged in jumping and chest bumping on the sideline, just that Eddie F, as They call him, be a bit aggressive while a wounded Jackson sprawled on the floor.
It was fun.
“This is an interesting group of guys to coach,” coach Neil Brown said after the game. “It was a delightful spring.”
Given the pressure he is under while being assessed by new sporting director Ren Baker, this has been a much needed aspect of the job.
What we don’t lose sight of is that there was serious football that led to a number of observations.
First of all, if there is a winner and a loser in a quarterback rivalry between Green and Nico Marciol, Green is clearly the winner. Brown admitted this after the game, but defended left fielder Marciol for making some plays and not having the kind of protection Green did.
“I thought Neko threw two balls really deep and our receivers didn’t play the ball very well, but it’s hard to tell without him having a chance to watch (the tape),” Brown said. “I thought they protected Garrett a little better, which was a pity for Niko, but this is going to be a long game, no matter what happens today or the first 14 (practice).
“It’s going to be a deal where we’ve been through the winter and spring and it’ll run through the summer and into fall camp before we find out.”
Marciol Day showed 6 completions on 12 attempts for only 58 yards…and no, he didn’t have as many receptions as Greene’s 40-yard touchdown.
Two receivers jumped out from the crowd, both expecting to do so. The first was former North Carolina State Devin Carter, who had three catches for 77, including a 54-yard strike from Green.
And tight end Kole Taylor, LSU’s 6-7 transition that fumbled in drills, had three catches while targeting only three catches, two of them stretches as he used his height to his advantage.
Perhaps the best news, though there aren’t great stats to back it up, is that CJ Donaldson played unreservedly after returning from his season ending leg injury last year, rushing 8 times for 36 yards and showing he still knows where the end zone is. He is with a 9-yard scoring course that is set up by a subtle motion in the hole.
“He hit a low blow once and it bounced back. I think that was a confidence-building thing for him,” Brown said.
Defensively, the Browns felt middle linebacker Lee as Pogba, and why he had four tackles, led the way but Malachi Ruffin had a solid day at cornerback, as did Aaron Burton while safety Aubrey Birx showed he would be the anchor in the deep secondary.
Finally, it happens every spring with another freshman rushing back onto the scene in Jahiem White, the youngster the Browns talked about often, exploding on a 53-yard touchdown run and finishing as the game’s leading rusher with 91 yards on seven carries.
“Obviously, Inferno is a fan favorite already. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a factor for us in the fall,” Brown said.