The Times West Virginian

Sports

May 7, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Alabama is reliving WVU’s quarterback complication

MORGANTOWN — Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.

A major college football team doesn’t know who will play quarterback in the upcoming year.

It goes through spring practice and none of the quarterbacks on hand are able to win the job.

No sweat.

It’s been waiting on a quarterback to graduate from Florida State. He’s the guy whom they expect to quarterback the team, but they had to go through the spring without him as he finished off the graduation process so he could be eligible immediately upon graduating.

What’s that, you say? You lived that story last year?

The school is West Virginia and the quarterback is Clint Trickett?

Right!

And wrong!

Yes, that’s how it worked at WVU last year, but it is also the way it is happening at Alabama this year.

That’s right. You want a reason why West Virginia has a chance to beat Alabama in the Chic-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta on Aug. 30 despite being a 23.5-point underdog?

Now you have a reason to believe.

See, it didn’t work out so well at WVU with Trickett last year.

When opening day came, Trickett was not well-versed enough in the WVU offense despite studying for the summer and going through August drills to win the starting job. In fact, it wasn’t until after the embarrassing 37-0 loss to Maryland in the season’s third game that Trickett earned a start, and what a debut as a starter it was.

The Florida State transfer engineered a 30-21 upset of No. 11 Oklahoma State at Milan Puskar Stadium, passing for 309 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown pass to Kevin White.

As a sign of how bad the Mountaineer quarterback play had been up to that point, it was WVU’s first TD pass to a wide receiver against a BCS opponent all season.

But Trickett was to injure his shoulder and never be the same again during the year as WVU struggled to a 4-8 season.

Now it’s Alabama coach Nick Saban’s turn to play the same game that Dana Holgorsen had to play last year as he spoonfeeds another Florida State graduate transfer, Jacob Coker, through the summer in an attempt to get him ready to replace the graduated A.J. McCarron in the opener.

It won’t be easy, although Saban does have an advantage in a rules change that allows coaches to work more with their players over the summer than they could a year ago. This should allow Coker to do a lot more in the terms of film study and being coached in the meeting rooms than Trickett had.

But Trickett owned an advantage over Coker and that was more collegiate playing time at Florida State and having experienced some really big moments.

While Coker’s college experience consisted of completing three of five passes for 45 yards and a touchdown in 2012 and 18 of 36 for 250 yards and one interception last season, Trickett played in eight games as a sophomore and completed 22 of 34 passes for 272 yards without a TD or interception. That came after heroics as a redshirt freshman when he played nine games, starting two against Clemson and Wake Forest.

His first career pass was a 28-yard touchdown to Rashad Greene against No. 1 Oklahoma, when he had to replace EJ Manuel, who suffered a shoulder injury, just as Trickett would do at WVU, and his first career start was against Clemson as he threw for 336 yards with three TDs and an interception.

But the learning process was slow at WVU and the same fate could be awaiting Coker, although the Florida State offensive system is more similar to Alabama’s than it is to WVU’s, which should make the transition easier.

Coker’s transition process started two days ago with his arrival in Tuscaloosa after graduation, putting an end to the twice weekly, three-hour drives he had been making between Tallahassee and his Mobile home.

He made those drives to meet with his longtime quarterback guru David Morris, the same man who worked with McCarron for years. According to Al.com, those sessions lasted an hour and 45 minutes, and “grew in intensity as winter turned to spring.”

Complicating matters, though, was the fact that Coker was recovering from knee surgery that ended his season in November last year. However, by the time the workouts with Morris ended, he was performing “better now than he’s ever looked,” the QB coach said.

Summer is crucial for Coker. Speaking to Al.com, former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, now an analyst for the SEC Network, explained it this way:

“You have to step up not only in a physical sense leading these seven-on-sevens and all those things, but also you have to be that vocal leader, the guy that holds the other players accountable. The guy that does that the best will have a significant head start going into the fall.”

Coker starts behind holdover quarterbacks Blake Sims, Cooper Bateman and Alec Morris in new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s pro-style offense, but Saban expects him to be able to handle it.

“We’re talking about learning a system so ... when the opportunity comes in August that he’s going to have a better chance of going out and feeling comfortable playing with confidence and developing the physical skills to implement the things we want to do, which probably is not as different as people would like to make them from what he has done,” Saban said. “It’s just the idea of terminology and understanding and feeling comfortable in the system that we have.

“The learning curve is going to be steep, but he’s a bright, young guy.”

But then you heard that story here last year, didn’t you?

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

 

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