The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

March 26, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Mountaineers still looking for an answer at QB

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia had just finished its Saturday practice in Wheeling and someone asked Shannon Dawson, the Mountaineers’ offensive coordinator, what he had just witnessed as his offense scrimmaged against Tony Gibson’s defense.

Dawson admitted he wasn’t sure.

“It looked somewhat like football at times, but obviously there are a lot of things we have to clean up,” he said.

The problem is that trying to put a football offense together without knowing who will be your quarterback is like trying to drive your brand new Bentley without knowing where the keys to the car are.

No offense works without a quarterback, but Dana Holgorsen’s offense is particularly quarterback heavy. With Geno Smith it is capable of scoring 70 points on anyone, even an opponent in a BCS bowl game.

Without him you can be shut out by Maryland.

To make matters worse, this spring Dawson is trying to put things together with the quarterback most likely to be his starter — Clint Trickett — unavailable to practice as he recovers from shoulder surgery and with the man most likely to be able to beat him out a newcomer in town — Skyler Howard, a junior college transfer — still trying to learn the ins and outs of the offense.

Paul Millard, who started a couple of games last year, is back, too, and Logan Moore, who was a wide receiver last year, is also at quarterback while freshman William Crest doesn’t arrive until August camp opens.

The job is open, to be sure, and on Saturday in Wheeling, Howard worked with the “ones,” which might say something, but it could just be to get him the most repetitions as they are force-feeding him so that come August he can compete on level terms with the holdover quarterbacks.

Make no doubt that Howard is being analyzed on a daily basis.

“He’s got a quick release,” Dawson admitted, “but it was hard to see because we never got into any kind of rhythm today. It’s hard to play when you are spinning.”

Just six or so practices in, things still are going to be moving fast for Howard.

“He’s got some intangibles, but he’s got to perform,” Dawson said. “Ultimately, someone has to win the job. When Clint comes back, he’s going to get reps, too.”

Not knowing who your quarterback will be makes things more difficult in the spring for the wide receivers, which is a position where WVU feels blessed this year.

  “We got a bunch of guys, but we got to get the ball to them. That’s the bottom line,” Dawson said. “We got a bunch of guys out there … and they got experience.”

Experience is the key. A year ago WVU was trying to replace Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, who had taken almost all the reps the previous two years, leaving them using a number of talented receivers but inexperienced and trying to work things out while a game of “musical quarterback” was being played among Trickett, Millard and Ford Childress.

“I don’t think they got into any kind of groove until halfway through the season,” Dawson said. “Mario (Alford) didn’t even get into the right position until halfway through the season.”

Alford caught only 27 passes in 12 games last year but averaged 20.4 yards per catch, showing big play potential that included a 76-yard reception.

Alford was used in the slot early, typecast as Austin’s successor, but while he fit the physical requirements, he was miscast rather than typecast. It wasn’t until they moved him outside that he caught on to this big-time college receiver thing.

“At slot I was pretty sluggish, you know, trying to run through the ‘backers,’” he said. “But at outside receiver, I’m a straight-running guy. Playing outside’s pretty simple, so I felt more comfortable out there.”

With Alford and Kevin White leading the way among the returning receivers with big-play capability and Daikiel Shorts, who tied Charles Sims as the leading receiver with 45 catches last year, and Jordan Thompson as control receivers, WVU would seem to be solid at the position.

They will, however, need to get to start working with a No. 1 quarterback to develop timing and the nuances that receivers and quarterbacks come to have as they work with each other.

That is something that usually is done in the spring.

Dawson is blessed with depth at running back, including Rushel Shell, the Pitt transfer; Dreamius Smith, a power back; Wendell Smallwood, Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison.

“We got players out there,” Dawson said of the runners.

The result is that there are going to be a lot of options in the way the offense can operate this year, but perhaps the biggest difference is probably the main objective of improving the offense this season.

“We’re stressing on extending plays and being more mobile. With that, it can open up a lot more,” said Dawson.

That would seem to give Howard a bit of an advantage as he seems to be the one most likely to add such a dimension at quarterback.

“We’re also trying to get guys who can play running back and line up at wide receiver, like Charles Sims did last year,” Dawson said. “We’re trying to get two or three guys who can move around and that allows us to play fast.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

Text Only
Bob Herzel
  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU needs White to follow in former receivers’ footsteps

    A year ago Clint Trickett took a lot of grief as the once potent West Virginia offense came unraveled, but there is more that than meets the eye.
    The criticism was not unfounded, of course, although behind each incomplete pass there was the pain Trickett was suffering through to throw it, his rotator cuff in need of surgery.

    July 26, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: O’Toole joins long list of eccentric WVU kickers, punters

    The star of the Big 12’s annual football media day wasn’t a star at all.
    He intrigued the media far more than Bob Stoops, the coach of preseason favorite Oklahoma, and more than Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, the preseason player of the year.

    July 25, 2014

  • WVU, N.C. State to meet in football

    Following a trend of creating non-conference games against regional opponents, West Virginia University has reached agreement with North Carolina State to play a home-and-home football series in 2018 and 2019.
    The Mountaineers are scheduled to play N.C. State in Raleigh on Sept. 15, 2018, and then play host to the Wolfpack on Sept. 14, 2019.

    July 24, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Cheating pays’ remark should draw attention

    When Bob Bowlsby, the outspoken commissioner of the Big 12, presented his opening-day picture of the future of college sports in Dallas for the annual media day gathering, his bleak comments were not unexpected.

    July 24, 2014

  • Holgorsen’s program hits turning point

    You can almost sense, as you watch West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen sit before the gathered Big 12 media contingent answering questions in the Omni Hotel in Arlington, Texas, that he senses his program has reached a turning point.

    July 23, 2014

  • Big 12 Media Days Foo_time(1).jpg Trickett’s play key factor for Mountaineers’ success

     In the end, it comes down to the quarterback.
    Always has with Dana Holgorsen, always will.
    Quarterback is the offense with the West Virginia University coach. When he does well, the team wins – almost always.
    When he does poorly, the team doesn’t stand much of a chance.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Saban, family happy at Alabama

    Alabama football coach Nick Saban, whose team opens the season against West Virginia in Atlanta on Aug. 30, denied receiving or turning down this offseason an offer of $100 million to coach Texas, indicating he planned to finish his career as coach of the Crimson Tide.

    July 18, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Quarterback child prodigy’ comes to WVU amidst very high expectations

    Has West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen finally put the arrow he needs in his quiver with the commitment received Wednesday from high school quarterback David Sills, who is a rather extraordinary story and may also just be a rather extraordinary quarterback?

    July 18, 2014

  • WVU kicker Molinari ‘All-American boy’

    West Virginia kicker Mike Molinari may not be an All-American but he is an All-American boy.
    He was honored for that on Wednesday when the Allstate Insurance Company and the American Football Coaches Association announced the West Virginia redshirt senior kicker/punter Michael Molinari is a nominee for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

    July 16, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Smallwood puts future in jeopardy

    The last thing West Virginia’s struggling football program needed as twilight was setting on Bastille Day in Morgantown was to have one of its own whisked off to the North Central Regional Jail on a fugitive warrant from another state, especially a player who had figured to play a key role in the resurrection of a program gone bad.

    July 16, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads