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QB race remains dead heat

by Greg Talkington

SPORTS WRITER

MORGANTOWN -- Although West Virginia's new offense didn't move the ball as consistently as in its initial scrimmage, it did score two touchdowns Friday afternoon in the team's second full-scale scrimmage of the spring.

Quarterback Rasheed Marshall bolted to the end zone from 14 yards out for the first score of the day. His nifty run capped an impressive, 14-play, 94-yard drive against the first-team defense.

The other offensive score came on a 62-yard pass from quarterback Hunter Cross to wide receiver John Pennington.

The defense also produced, as cornerback Richard Bryant intercepted a Marshall pass and rambled down the sideline 97 yards for a touchdown.

New coach Rich Rodriguez wasn't overly pleased with what he saw.

"Offensively, from an execution standpoint, we didn't do a very good job," he said. "We didn't throw the ball real well, we didn't run through our pass routes too well and we didn't sustain our blocks real well.

"I did think that our quarterbacks were mentally sharp, and that's a good sign at this point."

Rodriguez said the top four quarterbacks, Brad Lewis, Scott McBrien, Marshall and Derek Jones, were close and that the staff would have to whittle that number to three by the end of spring drills.

"If we were to play this week, Brad Lewis would be the starter," Rodriguez said. "He's seemed to pick up everything the quickest and has a good grasp of the offense, and I had expected that.

"I think Marshall has started to make a move, and we've been happy with Derek Jones and Scotty McBrien, too. All four of them have the physical tools to do what we want done.

"It will come down to who gets it down mentally the quickest and who can perform the best once we turn up the heat on them, which we'll do the next few weeks after the players return from spring break."

Lewis was sharp early, but misfired on several passes near the end of the sunny, but windy afternoon. He ended the day 11 of 27 for 108 yards.

Marshall completed 7 of 11 passes for 78 yards. On the touchdown drive, he was 4-for-4 for 49 yards and rushed four times for 26 yards.

McBrien completed 5 of 8 passes for 52 yards and also had a nice 14-yard scamper for a first down. Jones was 2 of 7 for 10 yards.

Marshall's touchdown run came on an option play.

"It was a speed option run to the right," Marshall said. "When I looked upfield, nobody was there, so I just tucked it in and took off."

The big scare of the day came on Marshall's interception that Bryant returned for a score. Linebacker Kyle Kayden knocked a lineman back into Marshall and then he collided with the quarterback as he let loose of the ball. Both Kayden and Marshall laid on the turf in obvious pain for a long time after the play ended.

"He just kind of rolled up on my knee," Marshall said. "But it's OK, really."

Rodriguez was concerned.

"When you see two players laying and clutching their knees, that gets you thinking 'Oh no,'" Rodriguez said. "Thankfully, they both got up and walked it off."

Converted running back Josh McMillen (5 catches, 45 yards), Phil Braxton (5-43), Shawn Swindall (4-55), Pennington (3-83) and Antonio Brown (3-35) were the top receivers.

Avon Cobourne was the top rusher with 58 yards on 12 carries, but 45 of those yards came on one run. Cooper Rego picked up 48 yards on 14 rushes.

"Our tailbacks have talent, but right now we're trying to stress to them how important it is to stick it up in there inside," Rodriguez said. "Cobourne has done a good job of picking up what we want done, and I think Phil Braxton competes hard and has done a decent job of knowing what we want from our wide receivers."

Rodriguez was pleased with the play of the defense.

"Everybody seems to be in the right place and is doing the right thing," Rodriguez said. "Our linebackers have really picked things up and we've been real pleased with the play of our corners."

West Virginia will resume spring drills April 2. Rodriguez' first spring will conclude with the annual Gold-Blue game on April 14.

Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by email at gtalkington@exponent-telegram.com.

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