By Cam Huffman
The “in-the-know” guys in Vegas aren’t expecting much of a game today when William & Mary visits Milan Puskar Stadium for a high-noon meeting with West Virginia’s Mountaineers in the 2013 season opener for both teams. WVU, entering its second season in the Big 12, is at least a four-touchdown favorite against its Football Championship Subdivision opponent from Williamsburg, Va.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting storylines to watch as the newest edition of the Mountaineers takes the field for the first time.
For starters, there’s the quarterback battle.
It’s been a question on the lips of Mountaineer fans since the 2012 season ended in miserable fashion with a loss to Syracuse in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Who will replace Geno Smith in the shotgun?
WVU fans hoped it would be answered at the end of spring drills. It wasn’t. Third-year head coach Dana Holgorsen promised he’d make a decision by the end of preseason camp. He didn’t.
But the choice will finally be revealed today when the Mountaineer offense runs onto the field for the first time. Will it be junior Paul Millard, or junior Florida State transfer Clint Trickett.
“Paul or Clint will start,” said Holgorsen. “They will both play. At this point, they’ve done nothing to warrant not playing quarterback here. It’s going to take some game reps and putting these guys in situations where they have to respond to really know what we’re working with.”
Today’s game, in fact, might serve as the final audition.
“The guy that we’re going to give the most reps to is going to take care of the ball and make good decisions about handoffs, interceptions and all of that,” said Holgorsen. “They have to take care of the ball and minimize the negative situations such as turnovers and giveaways.”
Of course, the WVU defense will also be closely watched. The 2012 version was the worst in school history — and one of the worst in the country — and everybody knows that if the Mountaineers are going to improve on their 7-6 finish last year, there has to be some improvement on that side of the football.
Keith Patterson has taken over as defensive coordinator, and many of his players have promised this year’s defense will look nothing like the one WVU fielded a year ago.
“I like how we run to the ball, with the emphasis on the pursuit drill,” said senior safety Darwin Cook. “I feel like everybody got better in their angles, which includes myself. That was one part of my game last year that I needed to improve on. I feel the whole defense got much better.
“We’re taking the best parts out of the 3-3-5 (which WVU ran under Jeff Casteel in Holgorsen’s first season and the 4-3 look they ran last year under Joe DeForest) and bringing them into one. I feel like they’re doing a great job with it.”
For Holgorsen, the focus isn’t on a specific unit as much as it is seeing how individuals react to the game day pressure.
“I just want to see what the kids’ mentalities are like and to see, more than anything, which guys get wide-eyed,” he said. “Nothing gets guys more in position than a game does. You can figure out their mental toughness. Guys that haven’t jumped offside all camp may get flinchy and jump off during a game, because it’s a game.
“If they remain calm, get wide-eyed or go into a shell, we’re going to evaluate it all.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.