The Times West Virginian

March 31, 2011

Little action in first WVU practice

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — “Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”

— Grantland Rice’s lead in the Oct. 18, 1924, edition of the New York Herald Tribune after Notre Dame’s 13-7 victory over Army.

There is an old football writer’s adage that says when you have nothing to say, fall back upon the old Grantland Rice lead.

So there it is.

Besides, West Virginia University’s spring football practice was ushered in outlined against a blue, gray sky, more gray than blue, to be sure, and certainly a March sky and not an October one, but to be honest, there was not a horseman in sight and there won’t be, if the WVU offense goes as planned.

Now one may wonder why, on the opening day of spring practice, there would be not much to say, and the reason is that on this first day the only thing of interest to anyone, be they the men and women who write about the football team or the men, women and children who read about it, was Dana Holgorsen’s offense.

Certainly, the Mountaineer nation hungered for his words about his first on-the-field practice, his impressions of the players that he saw in action for the first time, but with Holgorsen mum was the word.

For some inexplicable reason, on this day above all others, Holgorsen was sheltered from the ink-stained wretches and talking heads who chronicle the history of such occasions.

We were graced with a half hour to watch the new offense that was in its first day of installation and, therefore, figured to be a bit elementary and somewhat ragged at times.

One time just happened to be on the first pass that the media saw thrown by Geno Smith, who was bouncing around well on his fragile foot that is almost fully recovered from a stress fracture. Brantwon Bowser stepped in and intercepted it.

Other than that, to the untrained eyes who uses Xs and Os to represent letters, not football players on a chalkboard, it looked a whole lot like a lot of offenses … save for the tempo, which was rapid fire.

The biggest change was in seeing Holgorsen watching from the sideline, laid back in his approach, his hands in his pockets, rather than being out there on the field as was his predecessor, Jeff Mullen. One suspects, considering Mullen’s shortcomings, Holgorsen has it right.

But it would have been nice to ask him why he was stationed there during the drill that was open to the media.

Perhaps Holgorsen decided to blend into the background to allow the spotlight to fall upon head coach Bill Stewart, who was beginning his final spring.

As always, Stewart was ready and eager to discuss the state of his team and the state of the union.

“It’s been a long winter,” Stewart allowed.

Certainly it has been for him, whose status changed and who wants to erase the taste of a Champs Sports Bowl loss to North Carolina State.

This is the way Stewart saw the first practice.

“Day 1,” he began. “Our effort was good; our enthusiasm was good; we had a lot of bounce in our step. Bradley Starks caught the ball; Ivan McCartney caught the ball very well; Tyler Urban had a good day.

“On defense, Brantwon Bowser had two picks on the corner; Najee Goode had a pick; we didn’t block Bruce Irvin all day.”

Stewart added that Smith showed him that his foot was fine.

“I saw him burst off on a couple of play fakes there to both his left and his right,” he said. “He came out of it really well on a ball fake.”

What there was a lot of was enthusiasm and effort, which was fine with Stewart.

“I shouldn’t have to coach effort. I should not have to motivate people. We’re looking for self-motivators, self-starters. For a coach to have to coach that at this level, we’ve got the wrong guy,” he said.

Email Bob Hertzel at