MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Will Grier made throws short and deep, favoring David Sills, and tailback Justin Crawford broke loose for a 51-yard touchdown during West Virginia’s spring game Saturday.
Those highlights provided fans a glimpse of Jake Spavital’s play-calling, but Tony Gibson’s defense showed plenty of verve — dominating the second-unit matchups — to take a 54-21 victory in front of 6,415 fans.
Grier took his first public snaps since the Florida-Missouri game of Oct. 10, 2015, and threw for 202 yards on 12-of-18 attempts. He connected with Sills for 29- and 34-yard completions, while finding Ricky Rogers for a 60-yarder that setup Martell Pettaway’s 3-yard score.
“Will looked pretty good to me,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Did he look good to you? Yeah. He’s as good as advertised.”
Grier quarterbacked six series, resulting in two touchdowns, while a third drive reached the 6-yard line before he and Pettaway fumbled the exchange.
“I was very pleased with how he operated,” Spavital said. “We started by throwing some short passes and then we started taking some shots at the end. We got what we wanted accomplished.”
Sills made six catches for a game-high 96 yards, shifting to outside receiver after working in the slot all spring. His only mistake — a bobbled pass that led to a break-up — was a minor glitch compared to the production he showed.
“With what I saw today, you’re going to see (Sills) play all over the place,” Spavital said. “You’re going to see his role increase.
“He’s a very intelligent kid who loves the game and he’s constantly wanting me to put more on his plate. His last four or five practices were really impressive.”
The modified scoring system, always a spring-game perplexity, gave the defense credit for turnovers (six points), three-and-outs (five points), and drive stops (three points.)
The unit had a rough start on the fifth play when safety Toyous Avery whiffed on Crawford’s breakaway touchdown. Ultimately Gibson saw positives — nine scoreless drives out of 11 — from a defense missing Spur safety Kyzir White, Sam Xavier Preston and the Dravon Askew-Henry.
“Obviously, we didn’t make adjustments or do anything on the sideline,” Gibson said. “I just wanted them to be out there without coaches on the field. This is really the first time we just turned them loose and put them in game-like situations.
“We gave up the big run to Crawford, but after that I thought that they settled in.”
Redshirt freshman safety Jovanni Stewart made five tackles, and true freshman Derrek Pitts pounced on the red-zone fumble.
The third “touchdown” Gibson’s defense surrendered was an alumni tribute — Geno Smith in shorts and a ballcap flinging an 85-yarder to early NFL departure Shelton Gibson, sporting a hoodie and tennis shoes.
Second-team quarterback Chris Chugunov finished 10-of-22 for 98 yards, producing no points.
“We had so many moving parts with the 2s,” Spavital said. “We were trying to get guys their first opportunity to get out there and get some plays. The last formation of the game we hadn’t even repped yet.
“Chugs is up and down right now, but he has a good understanding of what we’re thing to do with execution. ”
Crawford finished with 66 yards on six carries and Pettaway gained 34 on seven rushes. Freshman early enrollee Tevin Bush worked with the second offense and carried eight times for 24 yards.
“Early in the game we were tying to get Crawford his touches,” Spavital said. “Then after you saw that first drive and the long touchdown it was time to get him out.”
Sophomore running back Kennedy McKoy, missing from this week’s practice sessions, was absent again after what Holgorsen termed “an upper-body procedure.”
Gary Jennings finished with five receptions for 46 yards and Jovon Durante caught four for 52.
“I thought our players attacked it the right way,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve had five long weeks of football, and this was kind of more like a reward for them to be able to go out in front of a lot of people and have a game atmosphere.”