By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
This is about West Virginia University’s football future, even though the present is not yet past.
It is about Dana Holgorsen, the coach, and his Air Raid attack, an attack that requires solid, disciplined receivers and, most of all, a cool customer at quarterback with a tireless arm and a clear head and ability to make all the throws.
Geno Smith adjusted to the offense when Holgorsen came to town as if he were born into it, putting together two of the greatest quarterback years the Mountaineers have ever seen, but his final game before stepping off into the National Football League is a Pinstripe Bowl matchup with longtime rival Syracuse at 3:15 p.m. Saturday in Yankee Stadium.
Holgorsen must make a couple of decisions between that bowl game, no matter its outcome, and next August.
First, he must decide who will be the quarterback to fill Geno Smith’s large shoes — actually, he has rather small feet for a man so big — and whether or not he will continue to throw the football 45 times a game or lean more toward a running game that worked so well at times during this season.
Sophomore Paul Millard was Smith’s understudy in this season while freshman Ford Childress was redshirted. They also have a commitment from Chavis Rawlins, a dual-threat quarterback out of Monessen, Pa., to come to Morgantown.
Rawlins is sold on WVU.
“I was going down the list, like any recruit would, and the best answers I was getting were from West Virginia,” Rawlins told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review when he committed in May. “I really, really liked West Virginia. I think I fit in perfect.”
Whether he can beat out a pair of players who have a year’s schooling ahead of them is another story.
Childress spent the entire year learning the position without playing.
He is a tall, talented thrower out of Kinkaid High in Texas who threw for 3,771 yards during his senior season in an offense similar to the one Holgorsen runs. The only time people in these parts got to see him was in the spring and he caught Holgorsen’s attention.
“When he (Childress) throws it, it goes exactly where you want him to throw it. It goes there, and it looks good, and it is usually extremely accurate,” the coach said then.
During that same spring this son of former NFL Pro Bowl player Ray Childress made one major misstep, being cited for DUI, but that seems now to be a part of his distant past.
He will be in competition this spring with Millard, who served the season as backup to Smith and who is taking a low-key approach to what lies ahead.
“I’m just going to come to work every day and work as hard as I can and do what I do. Whatever happens happens,” he said during preparations for the Pinstripe Bowl. “I’ve always had the confidence if I had to go in the game I would play well. I am going to work hard and see what happens.”
He knows the job is not his just because he served as the backup this season.
“Ford is very talented. He’s a big kid who can sling it around, but right now I’m just focusing on the bowl game,” he said.
There were, as there always are, some highlights and lowlights from the kid out of Flower Mound, Texas.
The highlight was easy. WVU was caught up in a difficult game with Oklahoma State, fighting to stay with the Cowboys while on the road, but on a third-down play deep in OSU territory Smith was sacked by Tyler Johnson for a 5-yard loss and lost his helmet on the play, meaning he had to come out of the game for one play.
It was fourth-and-13 at the Cowboys 37 and Millard had to rush into the game completely cold.
All he did, under a heavy rush, was throw a 37-yard scoring strike to Stedman Bailey to bring WVU back to within a touchdown at 14-7 in a game it would eventually lose 55-34.
“That was fun, man. It was a big play for us at the time. It felt good to get in in a meaningful situation and make a play for the team,” Millard said.
Compare that to last year when he came off the bench in the Orange Bowl with WVU far ahead and immediately threw an interception among the three passes he threw before Holgorsen put Geno Smith back into the game.
Millard believes he learned a lot understudying Smith this season.
“I’ve learned a lot this year,” he continued. “Obviously, the guy is a heck of a player. He will probably get drafted pretty high. Just watching him in the daily grind, seeing him treating every play like it might be his last, that’s been big. Every single rep he gets he’s looking to get better.”
He has watched him play and studied with him in the film room
“We get to spend a lot of time with him. We can get to see what he’s thinking, the checks he makes,” Millard said.
And about maybe being the one selected to fill those shoes?
“It’s coming up. He’s going to be gone. I think he broke every passing record at the school. Whoever the guy is will work hard just like he did and make plays and go out and try to win as many games as you can.
“I’m sure he’ll take that pair of shoes with him, and those shoes will be gone.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.