MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia offense struck back Saturday, producing hoots and hollers and, of course, touchdowns during its most lively spring performance yet.
Skyler Howard hit Shelton Gibson on a first-play scoring bomb and added two short touchdowns to Daikiel Shorts, who’s making the shift to outside receiver look seamless.
Donte Thomas-Williams ran for a pair of scores and Wendell Smallwood ripped off a 22-yard touchdown on his only carry as the offense reached the end zone six times and added two field goals during an end-of-practice scrimmage featuring 12 possessions that started from the defensive 30-yard line.
“Through warmups and individual drills, everybody I saw was saying let’s bring some energy,” said Howard, who finished 10-of-20 passing for 120 yards with the first unit. “We wanted to bring something to the table, not just sit at it.
“Everything was clicking for us today. We were rolling.”
The defense didn’t force a turnover, registered only two three-and-outs, and didn’t compensate for the absence of three top linemen. Virtually nothing pleased defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, whose unit had thus far been dominant all spring.
“The weather was nice and (the kids) weren’t thinking about football—they were thinking about cooking out or something,” Gibson surmised. “I don’t know what it was, but it was a bad day, really bad. That’s our job as coaches to get it fixed.”
The offense looked ready to celebrate a seventh touchdown until Gibson dropped another sideline bomb from Howard. That led to the scream of the day, Dana Holgorsen barking from midfield: “I might take away your scholarship, Shelton!”
Gibson, the redshirt sophomore who faced soaring expectations after arriving as four-star recruit in 2013, closed the day with two catches for 57 yards.
On the opposite side, Shorts caught eight passes for 63 yards, including a pair of 2-yard scores on fade routes against man coverage from Ricky Rumph. The junior spent the past two seasons in the slot, compiling 69 catches for 842 yards, but recently shifted outside to plug the void left by Kevin White and Mario Alford.
“I trust Daikiel to go get the ball, and I think you saw that today,” Howard said. “I think (the move) is a good change for him with his body type and the way he plays.”
Howard hasn’t been named the starter, though he’s clearly pacing the pack. His day would have been exceptional if not for two overthrows: He missed Cody Clay on a wheel route, and led Shorts too far after the receiver broke behind the secondary.
William Crest’s four series guiding the second-team offense resulted in two touchdowns and a field goal. Along with going 1-for-3 passing—the completion coming on a 23-yard screen to Thomas-Williams—the redshirt freshman quarterback rambled 25 yards on a designed run.
Thomas-Williams made three carries for 15 yards, including scoring runs of 7 and 2 yards.
Jacky Marcellus, who recently moved to the backfield from slot receiver, gained 16 yards on three carries.
Rushel Shell had a light day, at least during the live scrimmage, with two carries for zero yards.
“We got our butts kicked down there at Shepherdstown,” said running backs coach JaJuan Seider, referencing the previous Saturday’s scrimmage owned by the defense. “So to see them fight back in that situation and to go out there and compete is encouraging.”
Freshman QB earns reps: For the time being, Chris Chugunov occupies the No. 3 spot behind Howard and Crest. “Chugs” and fellow freshman David Sills are enduring head-spinning days typical of early enrollees.
“They have absorbed things,” Holgorsen said. “They’re still a ways from where they need to be, but I’m going to start repping them for the rest of the spring.”
Chugunov was 1-of-4 passing for 4 yards Saturday. One of his series with the second unit was nixed by a too-high shotgun snap from Stone Underwood resulting in a 15-yard loss.
Disappointed defense: With nose guard Kyle Rose suspended, and minor injuries sidelining Noble Nwachukwu and Christian Brown, the defensive line was missing three regulars. The cornerback rotation was shorthanded with Daryl Worley (shoulder) out for spring and Jaylon Myers (illness) being held out short-term.
Yet safety Karl Joseph cited energy as the biggest absentee, leading to what he called the defense’s worst day of spring.
“We know how good we can be, and when we go out there and play like that, we’re not too happy about it,” he said. “We know what we have to look forward to in meetings—we’re going to get yelled at.”
Outside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski seemed equally sure the film review would not be kind: “We didn’t play very well at all. We’ve got to do better.”
Explaining Shorts’ move: With Holgorsen uninspired by the progress of his outside receivers, Shorts began working there this week.
“We have enough bodies at inside to be able to afford to move him outside,” the coach said. “It’s going to be awhile before we have established guys on the outside. We’re just adding (Shorts) to the equation to see if that’s an answer. I think it will be.
“He’s going through some growing pains with that right now, but he’s an experienced receiver who’s got good size and good speed. He’s right now our top guy at the outside.”