MORGANTOWN. W.Va. — It’s Decision Saturday for West Virginia’s quarterbacks, according to the timeline put forth by head coach Dana Holgorsen and his right-hand play-calling man, Shannon Dawson. Within a fortnight of the season opener, the deadline for picking a horse and putting him in the shotgun is now.
Might it be Paul Millard, the Texas kid who apprenticed under Geno Smith the past two seasons?
Could it be Ford Childress, the other, slightly larger Texas kid who opened camp saying he came here “to start for four years, and that’s what I’m planning on doing.”
Or will the torch, and a 4,000-yard passing season, go to Clint Trickett, the quasi-native son who wasn’t merely drawn back to Morgantown for the duck hunting?
“All (three QBs) at times look really good. All of them are right around 70-percent completion in team (situations) and they’re taking care of the ball better.” — WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson
Today brings the final practice of fall camp, after which Dawson said the quarterback race “is over with.” It provides one last chance to impress Holgorsen, who by day’s end anticipates “being 100-percent sure of the direction we’re going to go in.” (Though it’s almost 100-percent assured he won’t be publicizing the winner’s name for a while.)
Dispense any notion that having three equitable contenders might lead the Mountaineers to use a hot-hand-of-the-week approach this season. That has never been Holgorsen’s philosophy. Once he makes up his mind, the starting quarterback dominates the reps.
“And,” as Dawson noted, “it usually works out.”
Holgorsen hasn’t faced this type of preseason pick ‘em since 2008, when he became the offensive coordinator at Houston and chose between junior Blake Joseph and sophomore Case Keenum—both of whom had split starts the previous year.
“Dana and I were talking all during that camp, and it went back and forth in his mind,” said Dawson, then the coordinator at nearby Stephen F. Austin. “At times he was really torn about who was the starter. Ultimately he chose Case and dumped all the reps into him, and he ended up being Case Keenum.”
That’s the thing about Holgorsen’s selections—they all end up being somebody. And even if there’s not one guy in the WVU quarterbacks room capable of matching Keenum’s NCAA record of 155 career touchdowns, it’s possible more than one is suited to compile numbers on par with what Smith produced.
“We’ve got capable guys,” Dawson stressed. “If we didn’t have capable guys we would have eliminated one already and dumped reps into the other two.
“All of them at times look really good. All of them are right around 70-percent completion in team (situations) and they’re taking care of the ball better.”
Millard has emerged from a similar quarterback competition before, winning the starting job as a junior at Flower Mound High School near Dallas.
“There was a younger kid who a lot of people thought would probably play over me,” he recalled. “It was kind of the same thing as here—we were splitting reps and it was all divided equally before eventually someone came out on top.”
Of course Millard rewarded his Flower Mound coaches with two outstanding seasons, eclipsing the 4,900-yard mark as a senior. That earned him invited walk-on status at WVU, which turned into a scholarship during his first day on campus.
Childress committed to WVU during April of his junior year at The Kincaid School near Houston, pledging just as Millard was going through his first spring practice with the Mountaineers. The 6-foot-5 son of Texas A&M legend Ray Childress was later approached by Texas but essentially shut down recruiters after announcing his plans.
Just as Millard and Childress finished last April’s spring game with their aim on battling one another for the job, then came the late insert Trickett, making the race more crowded and complex once fall camp opened. Though Trickett easily grasped the vaunted “three-day install”—which makes learning Holgorsen’s offense about as laborious as determining how to cook the French fries juuuuuuuuust right—there’s still the matter of mastering tempo, something Trickett didn’t face at Florida State.
Yet to hear Dawson hint at his grading system, it sounds as if Trickett merely has to match, and not necessarily surpass, the other two QBs to win the job.
“There is a curve to him you’ve got to take into consideration,” Dawson said, “because obviously he hasn’t come close to reaching his potential in this offense.”
Of course, in the ultimate decision for who quarterbacks WVU this season, no grading system will trump good old-fashioned instinct.
Said Dawson: “The decision isn’t made on paper—you’ve got to take a lot of intangibles into it. Who’s the most charismatic guy? Who’s the guy this team’s going to follow?”
By tonight, the coaches plan to choose their guy. When they’ll choose to reveal their charismatic new leader, well, that could take longer than the three-day install.