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September 15, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Childress’ debut sparks Mountaineers

MORGANTOWN — It came about in mid-week, the inevitable, really.

The quarterbacks were in their meeting with Shannon Dawson, who is quarterback coach and offensive coordinator, which is in reality overlapping assignments.

It had been obvious the week before, on a trip to Oklahoma, that the quarterbacking wasn’t what head coach Dana Holgorsen wanted, leaving that trip with only seven points.

“Embarrassing” was the word Holgorsen had used to describe his offense in public.

We suspect it might have been something stronger in private.

There was going to be a change, the only question being whether he would go to Florida State transfer Clint Trickett or his tall, strong-armed redshirt freshman, Ford Childress.

Practice would tell. Monday’s workout came and went, Tuesday’s did, too.

On Wednesday, originally, the cat got out of the bag as Childress worked with the first team for the second straight day.

Then, at the meeting, Dawson spoke up.

“We’re going to go with Ford this week, and if he doesn’t play well we’ll re-evaluate,” Dawson said.

Childress almost couldn’t believe his ears.

Oh, in a way he was expecting it. As noted, he’d played with the first team an extra day and always he was leaning on something Dawson had said early in the year.

“Shannon was like, ‘You are going to play this year. You can’t goof off. You have to stay focused.’ So I knew I was going to play this year, and I acted like I was a starter,” he said.

Childress wasn’t sure how to react.

“I got really excited, but I tried not to jump up and down,” he said, half joking.

When the team was at Oklahoma having its problems, Childress had done all he could to keep things positive on the sideline.

“The backup quarterback should always try to give positive energy on the sideline,” he said. “That was my job last year. The first two games that’s pretty much what I was trying to do, get everybody around me excited.”

It was noticed by the coaching staff and went down on the ledger as another plus for Childress.

So now Saturday came around.

“I was a little nervous,” Childress admitted.

Like with 57,440 fans in the stands, who wouldn’t be nervous?

“After the first play, it went away,” he said.

Made sense, considering the first play was a 24-yard gain on a reverse.

Now it’s true the opponent wasn’t exactly Alabama, although if all goes well he’ll have that experience next year.

Instead it was winless Georgia State, a new Division I-A or whatever they are calling it these days, and WVU was favored by 38 points, so analyzing Childress’ debut is tricky.

Great, it was a freshman record at WVU, 359 passing yards, breaking Scott McBrien’s old record of 257 against Pitt in 2000, but how does 359 against Georgia State in Holgorsen’s offense match up with 257 against Pitt in Don Nehlen’s offense?

Certainly, Holgorsen liked it.

“Pretty good for the first game he has ever played in college football,” the coach said.

Holgorsen’s judgment wasn’t based just on the yardage and three touchdown flings.

“I look for different things than you do in completion percentage and yards,” he explained. “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 Dawson. I thought he did a good job of just being in the game. That is what we were looking for. If you have a guy like that, then he can bring a lot of other guys along.”

In truth, a couple of the guys along for the ride were the other quarterbacks.

Through this competition they have become close, and when Childress threw his first TD pass, they greeted him with some leaping chest bumps.

“It’s great,” Childress said. “All of us like each other. There’s never that guy you always want to hit. They were supporting me all game.”

In a lot of ways this was the perfect game to break in a new quarterback. The outcome never was in doubt, and Childress was able to experience a lot of different things before having to do it in a hostile environment like Maryland next week.

“I got my first touchdown and I got my first pick, so … everything’s over now,” he said.

And next week he’ll be in M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens’ home stadium, running the team again.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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