By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Over the past decade-plus Dana Holgorsen, no matter whose head phones he put on while on the sidelines, has been in charge of one of the nation’s most sophisticated, inventive and prolific passing attacks.
He sent quarterbacks and wide receivers to the National Football League almost the way Pizza Hut sends pizzas to college dormitories. The latest, of course, were quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, joining a list that included over the years such players as Wes Welker, Justin Blackmon, Graham Harrell, Case Keenum and Michael Crabtree.
As this season dawned he conducted a summer-long triangular competition at the quarterback spot between last year’s backup Paul Millard, last season’s redshirt freshman Ford Childress and a Florida State transfer with some experience in a different offense and roots in West Virginia, Clint Trickett.
Holgorsen decided upon Millard to open the season against William & Mary because he was advanced in this offense and its ways of communicating with the sideline, and stayed with him for a journey to Oklahoma.
“We settled on Paul because we felt like he gave us the best chance to win the opener and to travel and win at OU,” Holgorsen said during Monday’s Big 12 coaches conference call. “We told the other two guys at that point as well that they need to stay ready.”
Neither performance, however, gave Holgorsen the sense of security he wanted out of his passing game, Millard ranking 10th in passing efficiency in a conference where the overall quarterbacking has slipped considerably.
Millard was well aware of how far off his game was at Oklahoma, a game WVU had a chance to win had he played close to flawlessly.
“This one is going to be hard to swallow,” he said after the game. “We lose the game by nine points, but I know there were a lot of missed opportunities. There were throws where I had guys wide open and I just didn’t make the throw.”
Holgorsen spent a good bit of time analyzing film and the passing offense and admits it is nowhere near where he wants it to be.
“I don’t know when it’s going to happen to where I feel good about somebody and they take the bull by the horns and they lead the team to victory and they look good doing it,” Holgorsen said Monday. “Until that happens, we’re going to have to continue to rep all three.”
That not only gives Trickett a chance to earn a start — or at least playing time — against a really weak Georgia State team that comes in with a pair of losses to 1-AA teams including being clobbered by Chattanooga, but it also brings redshirt freshman Ford Childress back into the picture.
He had been relegated to holding the clipboard on the sidelines but Holgorsen knows he has to take a strong look at him also.
“We’ll shake things up on the offensive side of the ball when it pertains to our pass game,” Holgorsen said. “Not happy with that. We need to be way more efficient than we have been. I would anticipate some starting lineup changes with the receivers as well.”
Rest assured that Kevin White will move forward.
White missed the opener but came back and caught seven passes for 80 yards and showed he knows what to do with the ball once he gets his mitts on it.
In addition to revamping his receiving rotation, which is loaded with talented but inexperienced players, the coach has got to dig into his running game again.
Unhappy with junior college transfer Dreamius Smith’s blocking, he didn’t give him much playing time at Oklahoma, feeding him the ball just once after he gave him his only offense of the day, an impressive 76-yard touchdown run.
You got a back who can do that, you have to get him the ball, and for those who worry about him not blocking, the likes of Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders and a thousand other top flight running backs had defenses keying on them and did pretty well.
The other part of the offense that Holgorsen has to find a way to incorporate more often is newcomer Charles Sims from Houston, who is a breakaway threat every time the ball is placed in his hands, be it handed there or via a pass.
Next week’s Maryland game will be played at 3:30 p.m. and will be carried on one of the family of ESPN networks, not yet chosen. The choice of networks will be announced Sunday.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.