Big 12 Bottom Feeders Optimistic Exiting Spring
By Steve Pipps
The thing with spring games, and really any inter-squad matchup, is that if the offense plays great, it’s evident the defense has serious holes. And if the defense shuts down the offense, it’s clear there’s work to do on that side of the ball. It’s just spring, though, so there’s time to fix it all. Right?
Five teams in the Big 12 had games, but three that caught my attention: West Virginia, Kansas and Iowa State. It was a big day for all of them. It was a chance to show how they will contend in the Big 12 next season.
The first half of the annual Blue and White game was dominated by sloppy play on offense and relatively strong defensive play by the young players on the White team. They brought heavy pressure which left Montell Cozart and Jake Heaps off balance and unable to string together a drive. The second half featured the offense airing it out more and we finally got a look at the early stages of what will be a much-improved Kansas offense.
For the White team, Michael Cummings and transfer T.J. Millweard got the majority of the snaps. Between the two of them Millweard was the standout. He was rough around the edges, overthrowing targets and making a few bad reads, but probably will see some snaps this season. Most likely he won’t top Cozart or Heaps, who ran the offense for the Blue team, for the starting job.
Cozart was the standout player on offense. He went 6 of 10 passing for 58 yards. He also did damage with his feet, rushing for 70 yards including an impressive 60-yard run only to step out on the 3-yard line. He later punched it in himself for his second rushing touchdown. The quarterback battle hasn’t been settled yet, but Cozart made a great argument for himself. Heaps struggled finishing the day 3 of 9 passing for 41 yards.
Taylor Cox and Brandon Bourbon both put up decent numbers on the ground. Bourbon led the team with 96 yards on the ground while Cox was behind that with 63, including a strong 26-yard run.
Nick Harwell was the standout receiver with four catches for 31 yards. Andrew Turzilli was another notable player. He hauled in a nice off-balance pass from fellow receiver Tre’ Parmalee in the second quarter for the first score of the game. Turzilli finished the game with 57 yards and a touchdown.
Iowa State’s quarterback situation is still up in the air as well. Sam Richardson, Joel Lanning and Grant Rohach all played some snaps, but Rohach stole the spotlight. He finished 22 of 38 passing for 171 yards. He also had an eight-yard scamper for a touchdown.
In the backfield the Cyclones should be set with Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy. The two finished the day with a combined 71 yards, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. The Cyclones also had 11 different wide receivers with receptions on the day. Quenton Bundrage was without any receptions after being targeted multiple times. Last season Bundrage was the leading wide receiver in touchdowns, yards and catches. Bundrage will be a threat next season despite the less-than-desirable spring performance.
On defense, the Cyclones played well, forcing seven three-and-outs and recording 12 sacks. They brought pressure and despite only having to place two hands on the quarterback they were getting through.
Overall the Cyclones looked like a strong team. They have a few kinks to work out, but they have a number of weapons this season. With the right quarterback they could have some upset wins this season.
Head coach Dana Holgerson is in the hot seat this season. West Virginia finished last season with a 4-8 record and only two conference wins. Its defense ranked 100th in points allowed and its offense was anemic averaging only 26.3 points per game. The Big 12 is notorious for putting up big points. If the Mountaineers can’t keep up, they’ll be facing another losing season and possibly a new coach come next season.
Their spring game started off with a bang when Mario Alford returned the opening kick 99 yards for a score. Alford has the potential to become a big threat for the special teams and at wide receiver.
A main concern for the Mountaineers this season is who will step up at quarterback. Paul Millard, Skylar Howard and Logan Moore all got snaps, but none of them solidified a spot at the top.
Millard had two touchdowns through the air while racking up 129 yards on 14 of 19 passing. Howard was 9 of 13 for 70 yards, while Moore was 10 of 21 for 109 yards. However, Moore also tacked on 38 yards on the ground. There isn’t much concern here with Clint Trickett, the early presumed starter, still injured, and William Crest not yet on campus. If anything, it will boost all of their play and a solid quarterback will emerge for West Virginia this season.
Defensively, the Mountaineers are growing as a squad. They had some solid stops early and players are settling into their positions. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said the defense still “has a long way to go,” but there should be improvement from last season.
The Mountaineers need to tighten things up before the season starts because they have an impressively difficult schedule. They kick things off against Alabama and I don’t see Alabama losing to the Big 12 for the second straight game.