Trial by turnovers
Defense well ahead at West Virginia's Blue-Gold game
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- New West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez's no-huddle offense was supposed to entertain fans and dominate the Gold-Blue spring game Saturday.
Instead, WVU's defense forced nine turnovers and dazzled a record crowd of 13,820 in a 37-27 victory by the Gold team over the Blue.
"Everybody is talking about the offense," free safety Rick Sherrod said. "We have to come out and make plays and let people know we are still here. There's all these high expectations for the offense, but you can't forget about the defense."
The split-squad defenses forced three turnovers in the first 5 1/2 minutes and six in the first half. Their pressure unnerved quarterbacks as overthrows and poor reads were common.
Gold quarterback Brad Lewis fumbled the exchange with receiver Shawn Swindall on the first play from scrimmage and Blue linebacker Grant Wiley recovered and ran 25 yards for the first of two touchdowns scored by the defenses.
Lewis was then intercepted by Sherrod on the next series after the Gold moved inside the 10-yard line. The Blue defense forced a Cooper Rego fumble on Gold's two-yard line, which led to a tying score.
"Most of those turnovers were on us," said Avon Cobourne, who rushed for 68 yards and one touchdown. "It was our fault. They came to play and did it well. They were tough."
West Virginia's new defense, an attacking, 4-4 alignment designed to stop the run, held both offenses to a combined 662 yards on 131 plays. The Gold defense, which had most of the expected starters, held the Blue offense to an average of 3.9 yards per play.
"Especially early, I think the defense is going to be our strength," said Rodriguez, who took over this year for the retired Don Nehlen. "They were aggressive and around the ball. We started off so shaky [on offense] that it helped make the defense look better."
The offense scored or set up most of its points off seven plays of 18 yards or more.
"There were a few little breakdowns here and there, but for the most part I liked what I saw," said defensive coordinator Phil Elmassian. "Those turnovers were poor offensive execution. But you have to be in the area to make plays, and we were there. We'll take it."
The Gold team scored all 21 of its first half points in the first quarter.
Lewis sandwiched a touchdown run and a scoring pass around Cobourne's 19-yard scoring run. Blue answered with Todd James' 26-yard field goal and Rego's 19-yard TD scamper to pull to 21-17 at the half.
Lewis, last year's starter, completed seven of 20 passes for 146 yards and one touchdown. Blue signal caller Rasheed Marshall, a redshirt freshman who seems to have taken the No. 2 spot from sophomore Scott McBrien, finished 6 of 17 for 98 yards.
"I threw a bad interception," Lewis said. "We had a couple miscommunication problems and a few mistakes, but I think we are ahead of where the coaches thought we would be.
"With all the shuffling of players, it was hard to get in a rhythm, but we kept at it."
Blue defensive back Angel Estrada intercepted McBrien and returned 34 yards for a score at the end of the third quarter. Gold answered with backup Cassel Smith's 10-yard TD run for a 28-24 lead.
After James hit a 47-yard field goal for the Blue, Brenden Rauh added a 42-yard field goal and Smith ripped off a 32-yard TD run for the final margin.