By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Dana Holgorsen finds himself in a quarterback quandary.
He’s looking to have one quarterback and has five of them as spring practice ends, and nothing about the spring session has done anything to straighten out the situation.
Certainly Saturday’s annual Gold-Blue Spring Game, which started with Mario Alford’s 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and ended with the offense winning 37-27, mostly with reserves playing out the string, did nothing to make Holgorsen’s decision-making process any simpler.
As he heads into summer he has holdover Paul Millard, who completed 14 of 19 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns; junior college newcomer Skyler Howard, who completed 9 of 13 for 70 yards and one touchdown; and former Fairmont State quarterback Logan Moore, who completed 10 of 21 for 109 yards and no touchdowns while rushing for another 35 yards on three carries.
Then, when summer camp begins on Aug. 1, they will be joined by last year’s starter Clint Trickett, coming off shoulder surgery, and highly regarded freshman William Crest … and that’s just too many quarterbacks to work with.
“We are going to have to come up with a plan. There’s five of them. We’re going to have narrow it down and figure out who the guy is,” Holgorsen admitted at the end of the day.
In fact, Holgorsen hopes to have it narrowed down a week into summer practice, and that will include coming up with a plan in case Trickett can’t go or gets injured during the year.
“The game is changing and quarterbacks are more athletic and running more, which means they are in harm’s way. If you want to win championships and have a successful season and go to a great bowl, your second team quarterback has to be able to go in there and do the job,” he said.
“All of them had their ups and downs days,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson said. “Logan, with the reps he took, obviously got better. Paul has probably been the same for a long time. He’s pretty consistent on what he does and inconsistent on what he does bad. One thing Logan and Skylar do is have the ability to extend plays when things get bad.”
Evaluating Howard off his work this spring is difficult because he just got into the system.
“He’s still learning the offense, but he’s going to be pretty good,” Holgorsen said. “He makes plays and keeps them alive. He just has to get more into the playbook. His communication is still a little staggered. Being a quarterback is a hard position on the field, because you have to know what everyone is doing. He’s going to be pretty good.”
“I don’t think Skyler’s head ever cleared up. There (were) two or three days in a row when I thought it did, but he probably would have benefited with more reps, but we can’t sit there and dump all the reps into one guy because it’s a competition,” Dawson added. “I can see his wheels turning. The learning curve is different for everyone.”
And the big mystery is Crest’s learning curve. The coaches are dying to see what he brings to the table.
“The learning curve is different for everybody. William is engaged as far as trying to learn it as quick as possible. I’ve had conversations with him. He wants to know signals and all that. The kid’s a smart kid and I feel he’ll pick it up quick,” Dawson said. “There’s a difference in picking it up in your mind and repping it on the field. Heck, I don’t really know the learning curve, but I know this fall we’re not going to rep five quarterbacks.”
So he was back to cutting down on who would be in the battle for the No. 1 job.
“Decisions are going to have to be made. We have to maximize our reps this fall. It is what it is,” Dawson said.
And what it was in the spring game was no one showing anything spectacular, laying claim to the job. There were some decent passes thrown, but also some really ugly passes, especially on deep routes.
“For the most part all three of them played average. Nobody did anything extraordinary. I wish we would get better at completing those deep balls. If you overthrow, there’s zero percent chance of completing it,” Dawson said.
Part of that is from repping three quarterbacks, so no chemistry really was built up between the quarterbacks and wide receivers.
Asked what he had to work on most, Logan Moore offered this: “Just getting better chemistry with the receivers and learning the offense better. I want to know it like the back of my hand. When we get out there in August, I want to be able to make the right checks and make the right reads.”
Much of the credit for why the offense wasn’t overly impressive goes to the defense, which did look much improved over the past two years, especially in pass coverage.
Cornerback Daryl Worley, in particular, drew Holgorsen’s praise, saying he had a “phenomenal” spring. And the defensive line also has come along nicely under new assistant Tom Bradley, who may be new here but brought with him 33 years of experience working under Joe Paterno at Penn State.
“I’ve been happy with the progress of the defensive line,” Holgorsen said. “Those guys are learning to be unselfish and hold their gaps. We have so many guys with experience. We have guys on that second level who have played a bunch, but the biggest difference I see — with K.J. Dillon and Karl Joseph — those guys are extremely disruptive off the edge.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.