By Cam Huffman
Quarterback battles are nothing unusual in college football — at least during the spring and summer. But seven weeks into a season usually isn’t a good time to have a three-man contest still being settled.
That’s exactly what’s happening at West Virginia University. The Mountaineers (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) have played six games, and each of their three quarterbacks have started two.
Junior Paul Millard, the only quarterback who had taken a snap in a WVU uniform before this season, got the nod in the opener against William & Mary, and he was solid, completing 19 of 25 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown in a 24-17 win. That earned him the start on the road at Oklahoma the next week, but he was sluggish in a 16-7 loss to the Sooners, completing just 21 of 41 passes for 218 yards. He tossed an interception, lost a fumble and failed to throw a touchdown.
That led for calls from Mountaineer fans to give Florida State transfer Clint Trickett a shot, but head coach Dana Holgorsen pulled a big surprise by naming redshirt freshman Ford Childress the starter for the third game against Georgia State.
Childress’ debut went well. He completed 25 of 41 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-7 Mountaineer victory, prompting Holgorsen to call the 6-foot-5 lefty “our guy.”
But much like Millard, Childress found the road to be a little more difficult the next week. In Baltimore against undefeated Maryland, Childress completed just 11 of 22 passes for 62 yards. He tossed a pair of interceptions and spent most of the rainy afternoon on his back looking up at Maryland defenders in a 37-0 blowout loss.
So Holgorsen again decided to make a move — aided by Childress’ injured pectoral muscle — finally giving Trickett, a junior who grew up around the program while his father, Rick Trickett, was coaching the WVU offensive line under former coach Rich Rodriguez, his shot against No. 11 Oklahoma State in Morgantown.
Much like his teammates, Trickett was impressive the first time out. His numbers weren’t great — he completed 24 of 50 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown — but he showed the ability to keep plays alive with his mobility and led the Mountaineers to an upset victory over the previously undefeated Cowboys.
Near the end of the game, though, Trickett injured his shoulder when he was driven to the turf in the end zone, and he was far from 100 percent when WVU made the trip to face another undefeated team in Baylor the next week.
Trickett struggled on a windy night in Waco, Texas, completing just nine of 28 passes for 161 yards. He tossed a touchdown and an interception and left the game in a lot of pain.
Holgorsen spent WVU’s bye week evaluating the first six games, as well as his quarterbacks’ health. But at Tuesday’s press conference, he was still a long way from settling on a starter for Saturday’s noon matchup with No. 16 Texas Tech (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) in Morgantown.
“We have three quarterbacks that we put out there and play,” said WVU’s third-year coach. “Regardless of which one we do it with, we have to be able to execute plays based on what is called. That is what the job of everyone else around the quarterback is. Would I prefer it to be different? Sure. But so would everyone else in the Big 12.”
Holgorsen said his problem is not unique. Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma have all played some musical chairs at the quarterback spot this season, a year after established signal callers like WVU’s Geno Smith, Kansas State’s Collin Klein and Oklahoma’s Landry Jones dominated the Big 12 landscape.
“If you look at the top teams in the country, they all have very solid quarterback play with one quarterback,” said Holgorsen. “That is the way it was in the Big 12 last year. Everybody had a solid, seasoned and experienced quarterback. Offenses were generating a lot more yards and points last year. It’s the way it is, and everyone has to deal with it.
“Everyone is dealing with the same thing, and it is not an excuse to not be successful.”
It’s seems clear to everybody involved, that somebody — anybody — needs to step up and assume the starting role if WVU wants to continue to develop its offense.
“Timing has been the biggest setback in our offense,” said WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “Everybody is so new, and you are not sitting back there giving one guy 90 percent of the reps. You are switching guys in and out. Every quarterback has played in a game, so there has not been a lot of gelling taking place.
“Hopefully, we will start to see that this weekend. It all comes down to how you play in a game. We have not played well in a game yet, so we will see how it goes this week.”
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Saturday’s game will air live on Fox Sports 1, with Justin Kutcher, James Bates and Brady Poppinga handling the broadcast. The Fox College Saturday Tour, a traveling pregame show, will be located outside the WVU Coliseum beginning at 8 a.m., up until the noon kickoff.
The Fox Sports 1 announcers will be making appearances throughout the day, and live on-air segments will be filmed on location beginning at 10 a.m.
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.