Chip Shots

by Jim Buzzerd

QB still up for grabs

The West Virginia University Football Team concluded spring practice last Saturday with new head coach Neal Brown’s first Blue-Gold Game. Temperatures approached 70 degrees under mostly cloudy skies. That was a big improvement from a year ago when the game was scrapped due to winter like weather conditions. Good weather and the buzz of a new coaching regime likely prompted 18,865 fans to attend. That is the third highest Blue-Gold Game attendance ever. The highest attendance was 22,000 in 2011.

It is also likely many of the attendees were there to see just how the WVU quarterbacking position is shaping up. For the last two seasons Will Grier was racking up passing yards and touchdowns throwing to Davis Sills, Gary Jennings and Trevon Wesco. All four of those players are gone and will likely all be selected in next week’s NFL draft. Folks, that’s quite a lot of offensive production to replace and if Saturday is an indication, replacing it will take some time.

The last time we saw the WVU football team take the field was in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando. Grier had opted to not play in the game and focus on preparing for the NFL draft, which left heir apparent, Jack Allison, to play in what amounted to a full game audition for the 2019 quarterback job. The results of the former Top 10 quarterback recruit were mixed. Allison completed 17 of 35 passes for 277 yards and threw an interception.  He threw for no touchdowns, but perhaps the most alarming stat was the five sacks he took.

Sack stats are tricky sometimes, because some of them are the fault of the offensive line, or superior pass coverage and some are on the quarterback. While Allison may have been a victim of poor blocking at times in last December’s game, it became clear that his lack of mobility would be a challenge moving forward. An offensive scheme would need to be in place to negate the mobility issue. With exodus of skill players looming, many Mountaineer fans were preparing for a long 2019 season following that bowl game.
In the 10 days or so following that game massive change in the West Virginia program unfolded. Dana Holgorsen tried to leverage WVU for a contract extension and athletic director Shane Lyons did not offer what the Holgorsen camp was looking for, so the two parted ways and Lyons quickly hired Brown from Troy.

One of Brown’s first moves was to attract quarterback Austin Kendall who was looking to transfer from Oklahoma because the Sooners were courting Alabama’s Jalen Hurts. Although Kendall has a nice pedigree as a former five star recruit and a backup to the last two Heisman Trophy winners, he’s had precious little playing time. WVU fans were quick to draw comparisons between Grier and Kendall since both were transfers from high profile programs.

We can pump the brakes a bit now that Kendall has a spring season as a Mountaineer in the books. He may ultimately approach what Grier did at WVU, but Grier had six games as a starter at Florida and two spring and fall practices before he took a snap in a game at WVU. The bottom line is that Kendall didn’t come in and win the quarterback job in 14 practices, but most observers think he’s the leader going into fall practice.

Brown mentioned before spring drills began that he will name a starting quarterback when it becomes clear. Following Saturday’s scrimmage, it is not yet clear to him. “I don’t know yet,” he admitted. “Will we have a pecking order after this? We may. I’m not going to commit myself to anything right now. I think we’ve made strides at quarterback, but I don’t think we’re ready to go play a game just yet.”