By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Normally, when an undefeated, ranked team, especially one knocking on the door of Top 10 as is 3-0 Oklahoma State at No. 11, goes on the road to face an unranked opponent, the pre-game chatter is all about them.
But, as the Cowboys come to Milan Puskar Stadium to face West Virginia University’s 2-2 Mountaineers at noon today before a crowd expected to push 57,000, the ESPN spotlight is shining clearly upon coach Dana Holgorsen’s team.
In a way this is WVU’s last gasp for respectability, for a program which was ranked No. 7 in the ESPN poll after five weeks of the season last year.
WVU is starting its third quarterback in five games and coming off an embarrassing 37-0 loss in Baltimore to Maryland in which this once-prolific “Air Raid” offense recorded just six first downs, gaining only 62 passing yards with just one completion to a wide receiver.
Ford Childress, a redshirt freshman out of Texas whom Holgorsen proclaimed his starter for the season after he replaced Paul Millard at quarterback, received a mysterious tear to a pectoral muscle during the game and was declared out on Thursday.
Holgorsen opted to replace him not with Millard, the opening-day quarterback, but with junior Clint Trickett, whom most assumed had been brought in after transferring from Florida State to run the team but who had languished on the bench save for six snaps which included two incomplete passes.
It is a difficult assignment for Trickett, taken over a broken offense that has managed just seven points in two games against major college opponents to date, Maryland and Oklahoma.
His opposite number is J.W. Walsh, a dual-threat quarterback in charge of one of the nation’s most prolific offenses, although not against a terribly challenging schedule.
Still, Holgorsen holds out great respect for Walsh, whom he pushed to recruit at OSU during the season he served as offensive coordinator under Cowboys coach Mike Gundy.
“They have an athletic quarterback. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of football games; he’s a coach’s kid; he’s savvy; he throws the ball well; he runs well; he makes it work,” is the way Holgorsen put it.
Walsh creates a lot of difficult scenarios for a WVU defense that is much improved over a year ago and that must play at its best to have a chance for the Mountaineers can’t expect to trade scores and come out ahead as it did last year against Baylor (70-63) and Texas (49-48).
Walsh doesn’t offer the Mountaineers anything they haven’t seen. Instead, he offers them everything they have seen from the two quarterbacks who beat them.
“He is a mixture of both (Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown and Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell),” said WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. “Walsh has all the intangibles. He is a winner. He has a proven record all the way back to high school. He is a good player. You can tell that he is a coach’s son. We have to keep him contained, try to make him one-dimensional.”
Like Walsh, Trickett is a coach’s son. His father, Rick Trickett, is veteran offensive line coach at Florida State who spent many years as WVU’s offensive line coach, a feisty, little guy.
Trickett is just as feisty, although he comes in a bigger package. He had some moments at FSU, including a 356-yard throwing performance as a fill-in starter against Clemson, but he could not get transferred in time for spring drills and was too far behind when the season started to be trusted with the starting role.
His main job will be to get the wide receivers back involved in the offense against a solid, but not complicated, defense.
“They’ve been running the same system there for a while. The scheme is not that tough. They are going to play four down. They are going to play a couple different coverages. They are mixing in some man coverage as well. They are not going to blitz a bunch, but they coach really hard on effort and technique,” Holgorsen said.
Expect WVU to try to establish its running game with Charles Sims, Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood while mixing in a short passing game from Trickett to get him untracked.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.