By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
A football game never boils down simply to one quarterback as opposed to another
Someone has to catch his passes, block for him, tackle the opposition and cover its receivers while others kick and return kicks.
Yet, in its simplest analysis, tonight’s West Virginia University-Oklahoma game at Gaylord Family-Memorial Stadium, shown at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports, can best be seen as a confrontation of two first-year starting quarterbacks in the Mountaineers’ Paul Millard and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight.
They are different, yet the same.
As odd as that may sound, it is a statement of fact.
Millard is known as a thrower, a “gunslinger” in high school who, in his debut as a starter completed 19 of 25 passes, which is 76 percent.
As a runner, Millard carried once, for minus-14 yards on a sack.
“I don’t think anyone is going to get a kick out of watching Paul Millard run the triple option or the speed option,’’ West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “There are obvious differences in what we’re asking from them. Not putting too much on the quarterback is important.’’
Knight is known as a runner. In his first start, he led the Sooners with 103 rushing yards on 13 carries.
But his passing was, shall we say, lacking, as he completed just 11 of 28, 39.3 percent, for 86 yards.
Hidden in those statistics, though, is that Millard managed only one touchdown pass while Knight had 3.
In truth, there is potential for Knight’s passing to come around quickly; certainly he has more of a chance to become a passer than Millard has to become a runner.
“His completion percentage wasn’t very good, but when I watched the tape, he’s pretty good. He can throw,” Holgorsen said. “I would anticipate him figuring things out and being a very good quarterback for Oklahoma. Hopefully he doesn’t get things figured out this week.”
So, you can see, they differ, but as stated they are also the same.
Holgorsen hinted at that when he said that not putting too much on the quarterback is important.
Both are limited by a lack of experience, and with that lack of experience comes a lack of confidence from the coaches until they prove themselves the way Geno Smith at WVU and Landry Jones at Oklahoma did.
Actually, Holgorsen admitted Oklahoma put more on Knight that WVU did on Millard.
“They’re asking Knight to do a lot more different things than we’re asking,’’ Holgorsen said. “Look at what we did last year. We were throwing the ball all over the place last year, and this year we’re running the ball a lot.’’
Stoops, by nature of his offense, had to have Knight do both for if he shows a reluctance to throw the football it will take away much in the running game as defensive backs crowd the line of scrimmage.
“He did some things really well obviously with his legs when you rush for over a hundred yards,’’ Stoops said. “That part was really good. Throwing the ball early wasn’t very good.
“But I’ve got great confidence in how he does throw the football. Once he settles down and gets more comfortable with the situation, I expect him to throw the ball in a better way. He made some nice throws, particularly in the second half. He’s got a great arm, so it’s just getting him comfortable to manage and handle the situation a little bit better early.’’
Conversely, Holgorsen saw Oklahoma hold Louisiana-Monroe to just 34 rushing yards this past week and realizes he is going to have to trust Millard and allow him to become more “Genoesquian” in his quarterbacking.
“I’d like to throw the ball a lot more than what we did,” Holgorsen said. “You’re talking about throwing the ball about 30 percent of the time. That’s embarrassing. We’ll try to correct that, that’s for certain. I say I don’t care much about stats, but we’ve got to be a little more balanced.
“What the heck’s going on here? I’m talking about balance, and everybody says it’s an Air Raid and we throw the ball 80 or 90 percent of the time. I’m talking about balance because we can’t get the ball in the air 50 percent of the time.”
The most likely scenario is to see Holgorsen use Charles Sims, his talented new running back, much as he used Tavon Austin last year against Oklahoma, perhaps trying to catch lighting in a bottle again. Austin rushed for 344 yards and WVU gained 778 total yards, more than any team previously had gained against the Sooners – ever.
Sims almost certainly will run many of the Austin pass patterns, too, for the key will be using safe passes to get it in his hands and try to let him gain yards on his own, just as Austin was able to do.
WVU is a 21-point underdog going into the first conference game of the season, so Holgorsen has to feel he has nothing to lose by opening up the offense.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.