Football, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Quarterbacks, receivers headline what to watch in Gold-Blue game

WVU’s annual Gold-Blue Spring Game has arrived and, barring a cancelation due to rain, there will be plenty of things to keep an eye on for Mountaineer fans.

Nothing definitive will come out of a spring game, especially as they have continued to be watered down due to paranoid head coaches, but with 2023 finally looking like the make-or-break year for fifth-year head coach Neal Brown, WVU’s spring game could be of particular interest for a fanbase that is teetering between hopeful excitement and disparaged indifference.

Weather permitting, the Gold-Blue game will kick off at 1 p.m. from Milan Puskar Stadium (ESPN+) and here are the things I will be looking for during the activities:

Philip Bowen

West Virginia’s own Philip Bowen, a resident of Montgomery, will play a free concert prior to the Gold-Blue game on the east side of Milan Puskar Stadium.

The singer-songwriter is a lifelong Mountaineer fan and has become an online sensation in recent years.

Chad Scott’s Offense

No college coach worth their salt will show their hand during a spring game, but with Chad Scott taking over as offensive coordinator, and potentially play-caller, this season, it will be interesting to get a first glimpse at what Scott has been cooking up. 

The talk of the spring has been WVU’s desire to get multiple running backs on the field at once. I doubt the team will give any of that away in the spring game, but we could get a sneak peek at what they’ve been working on.

QB Competition

Everyone’s favorite, a quarterback competition, will be on full display. 

The competition between Garrett Greene and Nicco Marchiol won’t be decided in the spring game. In fact, Brown said it won’t be decided until fall camp, but the spring game will give fans a chance to see the two gunslingers, especially Marchiol, who did not see the field much in 2022.

“They’ll be excited, any time you put a game behind something, emotions get a little bit higher,” quarterbacks coach Sean Reagan said. “They need to control that and continue to do what they’ve done really well this spring.”

WRs vs. DBs

The two positions with the most question marks heading into the season are wide receiver and cornerback. Lucky, then, that they’ll be going against one another.

Outside of NC State transfer Devin Carter, there is no experience in WVU’s receiving corps. This will be the fans’ first look at Carter, a bonafide number-one receiver, and also the first look at guys like Cortez Braham, Jeremiah Aaron, Ja’Shaun Poke and Preston Fox, all of whom need to prove themselves this season.

The defensive back group is full of guys who underperformed in 2022, but should be better with a year of experience under their belts. Like the receivers, there are a couple of experienced transfers in Montre Miller (Kent State) and Keyshawn Cobb (Buffalo), but players like Jacolby Spells, Malachi Ruffin, Andrew Wilson-Lamp and Aubrey Burks really need to take a step forward.

Jimmy Bell Jr.

It was a bit of a surprise when the news came out that big Jimmy Bell Jr. was over from the men’s basketball team playing football this spring. A former high school football prospect, Bell has been working at offensive tackle.

“There is some crossover between what he’s asked to do in basketball and playing offensive line and playing some tight end,” Brown said. “When people started playing the pick and roll game, he started having to guard guys out on the perimeter. That’s not too much different than pass protecting; you have to keep a smaller guy in front of you.”

Brown has said Bell could also see some time at the much-more-common basketball-to-football position, tight end. Saturday will be everyone’s first look at what Bell can do on the gridiron.

“The biggest difference is we can use our hands in this game” Brown joked. “Coach (Matt) Moore tells him ‘you’re not fouling out, there’s no fouling out in this game.’”

Most Improved Player

When someone is called a team’s most improved player, you would expect it would be someone making the jump from average or below-average up to good. Well, Brown thinks WVU’s most-improved player this spring is their 2022 leading tackler.

“I think Lee Kpogba, from where he was last spring to where he is this spring, he’s made the most improvement,” Brown said. “I think he’s got a chance to be an all-league-type player.”

Kpogba led WVU with 92 tackles last season after transferring from East Mississippi Community College. The team’s middle linebacker making the jump from good to great could go a long way to helping the defense as a whole rebound from last season.

Ambidextrous Punter

Freshman punter Oliver Straw was very good for WVU last year. So good, in fact, that the Australian might have been a little bored because he’s been experimenting with punting with both feet.

“Obviously there’s a little bit of disparity between my left and right because it is my non-dominant foot,” Straw said. “Playing Australian football when you grow up, you are taught to kick with the left and right foot. There are a few Australians who can do it, but pulling that out in a game is something that I’m going to have to put a lot of work into.”

If there was anywhere to safely try kicking left-footed, it would be the spring game, where the stakes are low. Whether Straw will actually try it or not is to be seen.

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