MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Even after West Virginia’s first-team defense refused to yield a touchdown during Saturday’s game-like scrimmage, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson called poor tackling “my biggest fear.”
His worries stemmed from a live-situation drill Friday in which Gibson said the defense missed 22 tackles.
“It’s being out of control,” he said. “The biggest mistake we saw (Friday) on film were guys with their head down, running full-speed, and reaching—and that’s not how we teach tackling. You’ve got to see what you hit and keep your eyes up.
“We really honed in on it (Saturday) morning and I thought the kids responded well. I think we only had two or three missed tackles in the whole scrimmage today.”
One of Saturday’s missed tackles, however, turned into a 15-yard touchdown when Mike linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton whiffed on Dontae Thomas-Williams after the freshman running back caught a swing pass in the flat.
The media was allowed to watch about 10 possessions. Most began with the offense deep in its own territory, though a few started from the defensive 25-yard line in a scoring-zone drill.
The first-team offense, working against the first-unit defense, produced only three points under quarterback Clint Trickett, while the second unit scored two touchdowns on Paul Millard passes.
DILLON DELIVERS: The first-team offense was threatening to march the field when nickel back K.J. Dillon undercut a receiver’s out-route to intercept a Clint Trickett pass at the 25-yard line.
The excitable Dillon also registered two sacks, leading Gibson to brag that “he’s the life of our defense.”
MILLARD MOVES NO. 2s: Millard’s first touchdown pass was a nicely threaded 19-yarder to KJ Myers in the back of the end zone. He also tossed the check-down pass that Thomas-Williams turned into a score.
Pinned against his goal line on an earlier series, Millard took a shot at a 99-yard pass that barely landed beyond a streaking Vernon Davis.
Despite wearing a gold no-contact jersey, Millard later scrambled out of his end zone and was knocked down by Shaq Riddick. The quarterback promptly bounced up and threw the ball into Riddick’s back as the defensive end ran off to celebrate the third-down stop.
Millard sported passing gloves again, just as he had done during Thursday’s media session. Asked about his switch from the bare-handed days of old, the senior joked that he had been diagnosed with “a micro-limb injury.” Then he admitted “Nah, that’s BS. We’re just having a good time.”
SMALLWOOD’S BIG GRABS: The buildup surrounding Wendell Smallwood’s versatility at slot receiver certainly was validated after the sophomore running back made a leaping downfield grab in traffic.
A series later he climbed high to catch another Trickett pass on a deep in-route.
“He’s a kid who’s going to be on the field for us because he’s so comfortable doing all the stuff he’s doing,” said running backs coach JaJuan Seider.
SHELL SORE: Pitt transfer Rushel Shell was dressed in pads but held out of the scrimmage with a minor leg injury.
“I took it easy on him today because he took one in the quad (Friday) night and he was sore,” Seider said. “I know where he’s at right now, so it didn’t make sense to go out there and put him in a (tough) situation. He could’ve went today if we wanted him to go.
TYLER TAKING OVER?:Despite a strong camp from true freshman Dravon Henry, it appears sophomore Jeremy Tyler has pulled ahead in the competition at free safety. Tyler took all the first-team reps Saturday while Henry sported a green non-contact jersey.
On a red-zone third-down situation, Tyler broke up a near-touchdown strike from Trickett to Daikiel Shorts.
LAMBERT MISFIRES: Assistant coach Joe DeForest was bothered by the inconsistency of Josh Lambert missing 2-of-3 field-goal tries, including a badly hooked attempt from inside 30 yards.
“He missed a 50-yarder wide right that would’ve been good, and then he made one, but then he missed a chipshot, and it’s disappointing,” DeForest said. “When he misses a kick, it’s his footwork, his approach to the ball. It’s not mental. Josh is pretty even-keel.”