By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen has a full-scale quarterback controversy on his hands, admitting that at present “it’s open competition, and it’s going to remain that way.”
Paul Millard, in two outings, has not proven he can carry the football team the way a Holgorsen quarterback must, making the natives restless to get a taste of what Florida State transfer Clint Trickett can do.
And, being honest, there was a time during Saturday night’s 16-7 loss at Oklahoma during which the Mountaineers once again displayed an impotent offense save for one 75-yard touchdown run in the first quarter by Dreamius Smith, a back who would carry but one more time the rest of the evening, that Holgorsen got a bit restless himself.
Millard played the entire game, completing 21 of 41 passes for 218 yards with an interception and no touchdown.
Holgorsen and his offensive coordinator, Shannon Dawson, admitted in the postgame fog of defeat that late in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter they spoke on the headphones about replacing Millard with Trickett, who was 0-for-2 passing in a cameo role in the opening game against William & Mary.
It reached such a point that Trickett was even warming up on the sideline.
“I almost did it,” Holgorsen admitted.
But there was something holding him back, something unique to the Oklahoma game, and that was a long history of having faced Bob Stoops and his defensive coordinator brother Mike many times over the past decade and a half.
“We did some different stuff offensively that we haven’t done before,” Holgorsen explained.
It was stuff Stoops forced him into doing, things like huddling, if you can imagine a Holgorsen team gathered in a semi-circle behind the line of scrimmage to call a play.
“I alluded to it earlier in the week,” Holgorsen said. “Nobody knows our offense better than Bob and Mike Stoops. They know all our signals, all our route combinations. We had to be smart with that. We had to put our guys in position where they weren’t just going against a defense that knew exactly what you were going to do.”
That complicated communication between the bench and the quarterback.
“We felt we had to do some specific things to guard against that. That meant the communication on the field had to be spot-on. Paul is the best we have at that. Because Clint is inexperienced in our offense, I didn’t feel comfortable doing that, but I thought about it a bunch.”
Funny, though, isn’t it, that Holgorsen would go old-fashioned enough to huddle but stopped short of going all the way back to the old days when Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns had messenger guards alternating a guard on each play so the guard could bring the call in with him.
Dawson, who as coordinator had a say in the matter, agreed with Holgorsen.
“It was so late in the game, we felt our best chance to win was to stick with Paul,” he said. “When things aren’t going good, that’s always the conversation because the quarterback is the guy.”
Again, though, it came down to feeling comfortable with Millard’s knowledge of the system and his ability to communicate best.
“I thought the best chance to win was with the guy who took the majority of the reps during the week and who was communicating the best,” Dawson said. “I don’t think that honestly won or lost the game.”
That was certainly true, for as badly as Millard missed opportunities, not hitting open receivers or not going to the right player, his receivers never really made a play for him. In fact, the two best catches of the night were by safeties Darwin Cook and Karl Joseph, each with a leaping interception.
Very much to his credit, Millard stood up and took the blame coming to him.
“We had plays to make; the call was made and, shoot, it was there. We just gotta make the play. A lot of times it was routine plays that we didn’t make, I didn’t make. We just have to rally around this game. It’s a long season. We can’t let this affect us in the long run,” he said.
This is a perfect week with weak Georgia State coming to Morgantown to make a firm decision at quarterback.
“We will evaluate Paul and see where we’re at with it. I’m not happy with seven points, but I thought we did some good things periodically,” Holgorsen said. “We will evaluate it. Maybe Ford (redshirt freshman Childress) gets reps next week. Maybe Clint gets reps next week. That’s why we practice.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.