By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
One would think that on a team where that is coming into a new season after losing a quarterback like Geno Smith and a pair of wide receivers like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, its coach might be doing backflips over having a receiver step forth in his spring game and catch six passes for 123 yards, three of them going for touchdowns, one a 65-yard scoring strike.
And Dana Holgorsen might have been doing that, were the player who produced that in what would be a 41-33 victory from the defense over the offense in a game that used a modified scoring system not Jordan Thompson.
Indeed, rather than adding to the hype that you might lay upon someone like that, Holgorsen downplayed his accomplishment before a crowd estimated at 8,000 to the point that it would draw little more than a yawn from him, going so far as keeping him from even meeting with the media.
Of course, this is nothing new for Holgorsen, whose disdain for the West Virginia press reached heights never seen here before this spring, limiting access to players so badly that you almost never could develop the story you wanted.
It remained that way in this final day of spring practice as Thompson was held out of interviews, as was new wide receiver Kevin White, who made the play of the game on a spectacular touchdown run with a screen pass; Travis Bell, who had missed most of the spring, was switched to cornerback just two days earlier and made an interception; and Dreamius Smith, the junior college running back started and rushed for 38 yards on seven carries, averaging 5.4 yards a carry.
Thompson’s touchdown came when he split the deep safeties for his 65-yard TD for the game’s first score from redshirt freshman QB Ford Childress when the offense was having trouble getting unwound, then on a 10-yard score from Paul Millard and finally on a 24-yard pass in the back of the end zone from Millard.
It was a splendid performance for the player his teammates call “Squirt” because he stands but 5-foot-7 and weighs only 168 pounds, yet this was Holgorsen’s response.
“He had a good game last spring, too,” he said.
Indeed he did. He caught eight passes last spring as an early enrolling freshman for 66 yards and a touchdown, leading Holgorsen to believe he might produce big time during the season and helping earn him a chance to start.
But Thompson disappointed, catching only 13 passes last season for 85 yards, just 6.5 a catch, without a touchdown.
“He will go down in the history books as the greatest spring game player of all time,” said Holgorsen. “Until he plays like that in a game, we’re going to call it like it is. I haven’t seen him play like that in a game yet. Until he does that in a game, we’re not going to talk about it.”
He has competition as far being a great player in meaningless exhibition games. Back in the 2000 spring game, Shawn Terry caught four passes for 97 yards, and two years earlier, in a junior varsity game against Potomac State in Charleston, he caught six passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns.
He grew into one of WVU’s best kick returners, taking four back for touchdowns, but as a receiver he managed to gain only 271 yards in his career, 10 less than he gained in that JV game.
And, if Holgorsen wasn’t going to talk about Thompson, rest assured his offensive coordinator, Shannon Dawson, wouldn’t praise him either. In fact, he refused to talk about him at all.
“If I talk about him he’s going to go thinking he’s got it figured out, like he always does,” Dawson answered. “I just wish everyone would stop talking about him and just let him be. He had a good day; I’ll give him that, but he needs to have some big days on big days before we start talking about him, with an opponent on the field other than ourselves.”
Now Dawson would talk about Kevin White, the big, rangy wide receiver who turned a completely covered screen pass from Millard into a touchdown.
“Third and 2 or 3 and a run was called,” Dawson said.
He felt that was the right call.
“It looked to me like we should have handled it, seeing at how many people were out there. It looked like we didn’t have leverage on the screen,” he said.
Still the play was changed to the screen to White and, as Dawson admitted, “getting the ball to him is never a bad thing.”
As far as the game went, little was settled. Thompson and White looked like they may be able to offer some big plays, being the leading receivers, White catching five for 72 yards and his TD to go with Thompson’s six for 123 and 3.
The two quarterbacks left little to choose between them, Millard completing 16 of 27 for 185 yards and 3 TDs without an interception and Childress hitting 14 of 21 for 169 yards, with a TD and one interceptions.
Millard, however, was sacked four times and Childress just twice.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.