MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Nevermind the hard-charging blitzers, the coverage disguises or the butterflies you’d anticipate a redshirt freshman experiencing in his first college action.
Instead, quarterback Ford Childress pinned the trickiest part of Saturday’s debut on West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen trying “to be cute with his signs.”
What the …?
“He tries to hide them and stuff, and he’s got little, small fingers,” said a grinning Childress. “So it gets kind of confusing.”
Holgorsen may not possess hands as large as his 6-foot-5 quarterback, but he showed a sizable pair of stones this week by promoting Childress from third-string based essentially on one practice.
According to Childress, the coaches planned to give him Tuesday’s first-team reps before Clint Trickett took the honors on Wednesday. Only Trickett never got the chance—because Childress performed well enough Tuesday to stick with the first-teamers the next day.
Paul Millard, having overseen the offense through two underwhelming games, was not going to save his job this week, which meant Holgorsen was faced with a career first: Admitting he chose the wrong starting quarterback in the preseason.
Though Childress wasn’t perfect Saturday, he made Holgorsen’s do-over look like the right decision—hitting on 25-of-41 passes for three touchdowns one interception and a WVU freshman-best 359 yards. That stat line would have eclipsed the 400 mark if not for three drive-killing drops.
Not that Holgorsen particularly cared about the numbers.
“I look for some different things than what you (media) guys look for—completion percentage and yards and all that stuff I really don’t pay much attention to,” he said. “I thought his body language was good. I thought he handled the huddle pretty good. Coming to the sidelines he was communicative. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Of course, along with good posture and attentiveness, Holgorsen and his staff are looking for more explosive plays downfield. And there were numerous chances against a Georgia State defense that is feeble even by Sun Belt standards.
Some of those misfires were on Childress, who must learn to unleash the bigness of his right arm. Twice on post routes he failed to sufficiently lead deep burners Kevin White and Ronald Carswell, leading to this self-evaluation: “I tend to underthrow deep balls because I want to give (the receivers) a shot. But I just need to let it go and let them run under it.”
A 41-7 takedown of an FBS-light team isn’t enough to anoint Childress as a four-year starter, but it surely puts him in good stead for a second week. And by the close of next Saturday’s swing game at Maryland, we’ll more accurately assess whether this freshman can make the Mountaineers factors in the Big 12.
Holgorsen, returning to the subject of intangibles, sure sounds convinced.
“We all know he’s got some talent and he’s big, but I like his mentality,” Holgorsen said. “He’s got poise when I talk to him, and it doesn’t matter how I talk to him. If I’m being nice to him or being mean to him, he doesn’t let emotion get in the middle of that.”
For now, unequivocally, WVU’s fortunes rest in Childress’ hands, even if he can’t see his coach’s.