By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Just when it appeared West Virginia University might tread water all season, a quarterback stepped out of the shadows with a record-setting performance that could just turn its season into a success.
Redshirt freshman Ford Childress made his debut at quarterback for the Mountaineers a winning one, throwing for 359 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-7 victory Saturday over winless Georgia State before 57,440 fans at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“That was pretty good for the first game he has ever played in college football,” coach Dana Holgorsen said.
Indeed it was.
In fact no WVU freshman had ever thrown for even near the yardage Childress accounted for. The previous record was the 257 yards Scott McBrien threw for against Pitt in a 38-28 loss on Nov. 24, 2000.
Childress, who learned he was starting midweek after Paul Millard had split the first two games against William & Mary and Oklahoma, completed 25 of 41 passes and threw one interception in addition to his three TDs.
Childress threw touchdown passes of 21 and 23 yards to Daikiel Shorts and 45 yards to Ivan McCartney while having another potential scoring toss dropped.
But he wasn’t worrying about plays that weren’t made for him on this day, for there were too many plays being made for him. Even early on, when the offense was sputtering, he never felt he was in a situation where he had to make a play or worry about leaving the game.
“I didn’t feel that way. I have good enough guys around me that I can basically hand them the ball or toss them the ball and they’ll make a play for me,” he said.
And they did.
Charles Sims, for example, rushed 18 times for 116 yards and a touchdown. It was his second 100-yard game since transferring from Houston.
And most of his receivers stepped up big time, KJ Myers catching six passes, Shorts adding five for 88 yards and two TDs and Ivan McCartney running a magnificent pattern to break free and run under a well-thrown 45-yard touchdown.
All of it was well received by Holgorsen
“I look for different things than you do in completion percentage and yards,” the coach said. “I thought his body language was good and that he handled everything well. He was communicating well with the running backs, receivers, in the huddle and with Coach (Shannon) Dawson.”
WVU, now 2-1, entered the game a 38-point favorite over a team that had dropped decisions to a pair of FCS schools, but considering the Mountaineers had managed only seven points in their last game at Oklahoma and were starting an unknown at quarterback, there was a certain intrigue in the air.
Childress was the center of attention as he took over for Millard. It quickly was apparent he had a stronger arm and more big-play potential.
“I was a little nervous but after the first play it went away,” Childress said.
His first collegiate possession resulted in a 42-yard Josh Lambert field goal set up by a 24-yard reverse from receiver Mario Alford, but it wasn’t until the second possession during which Childress found the passing range.
The tall Texan’s first completion was a 10-yard screen to Sims, which ignited a 93-yard scoring drive and a 10-0 lead.
Childress complete 6 of 7 on the drive, keyed by a 21-yard connection to McCartney to put the ball at the Panthers’ 21.
Childress latched up with Shorts, another freshman, for a 21-yard score and his first career TD.
The offense was stagnant through most of the second quarter, Childress being victimized by his first career interception, and it appeared that the Mountaineers might go into halftime with just a 10-0 lead.
But Childress and McCartney took care of that. McCartney faked a move to the inside, then broke free downfield as Childress laid the ball up for him. McCartney gathered it in and trotted into the end zone for a 45-yard score and a 17-0 lead.
“When a guy is that wide open you just want to make sure you don’t underthrow him or overthrow him, so you get kind of rattled,” Childress said.
Childress completed 11 of 17 passes for 178 yards and two scores in the first half while throwing an interception and being taken down once on a sack.
Early in the second half, WVU seemed to have a sure TD on a pass from Childress but Kevin White couldn’t hold the ball as he leaped over a defender going into the end zone.
The Mountaineers lost the ball on downs after that, and on the next play, Panthers running back Travis Evans streaked down the left sideline 65 yards into the end zone on the longest touchdown run in school history to narrow the lead to 17-7.
WVU stretched its advantage to 20-7 on Lambert’s 23-yard field goal late in the quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, WVU finally established its superiority. Sims took a handoff and broke left against the formation and sprinted to the corner, diving into the end zone to give WVU a commanding 27-7 lead.
That carry took Sims over 100 rushing yards. He finished with 116 yards on 18 carries.
WVU added two more fourth-quarter score when Shorts made a diving catch in the end zone of a 23-yard pass from Childress and Dreamius Smith ran one in from 10 yards out.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.