By Cam Huffman
The question was obvious after West Virginia’s 30-21 upset win over No. 11 Oklahoma State last Saturday. Why hadn’t Florida State transfer Clint Trickett, who led the Mountaineers to a victory in his first start at quarterback, been given an opportunity earlier in the season?
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen was quick with an answer. Trickett, who didn’t arrive in Morgantown until after spring practice, simply wasn’t comfortable enough with the system at WVU, especially the signals from the sideline.
Trickett, who already has an undergraduate degree from Florida State, may not have a Spanish or French class on his schedule this semester, but that doesn’t mean he’s not learning a new language.
“View it as learning sign language,” said Holgorsen when asked to explain the process of relaying signs from coach to quarterback. “If you wanted to learn the alphabet, you could probably learn it in a week. That’s step one, just learning what the signals are and what they mean. From there, you’ve got to process the play. I give him the play, and he’s got to process it — get everybody lined up right, communicate it to the o-line, get to the line of scrimmage, relay the cadence, go through the cadence and you may change the snap count or put a guy in motion. The more you go through it, the easier it gets. That’s what he has to improve on, and that’s on him. He should be better at that right now.
“There were times in the game where I signaled the play to him and he looked at me like I was from outer space. That’s when I would throw my fits. It’s frustrating, because it’s like communicating with somebody that speaks a different language. The language that they learned at Florida State is different than the language we’re speaking here.”
But if Trickett got the chance to make a start — even if it was after an injury to redshirt freshman Ford Childress — he must at least be close to having it all down, right?
“I lost several years off my life with the communication,” said Holgorsen, debunking that notion. “He’s a long way from being able to operate our offense the way I want him to operate our offense. But he reacted to the game well. He put us in a position to win. The good news is that when he snaps the ball, the way he reacts is why we won.”
Holgorsen said there’s really no other way to learn other than repetition. The two have practiced on the field and even passing each other in the hallways of the Puskar Center, Holgorsen will give Trickett a sign and ask him to process it.
“I had a real good one for him the other day,” Holgorsen joked. “Hopefully y’all didn’t see that one.”
The burden, Holgorsen said, doesn’t fall solely on Trickett. If he’s going to play, the coaches have to find a way to communicate that he can understand.
“I’ve got to get better at it and he’s got to get better at it,” said Holgorsen. “Then through practices and games, hopefully we can pick it up. We’re going to adapt as coaches. He’s going to adapt, and we’re going to get better.”
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Whether Trickett will get a chance to work on that communication Saturday when WVU (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) makes the trip to Waco, Texas, to take on No. 17 Baylor (3-0, 0-0 Big 12) — an 8 p.m. game that will air on Fox Sports 1 — is still unknown. The junior hurt his shoulder in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State when he was driven hard into the turf after releasing a pass. He came back to finish the game, but he didn’t practice on Sunday.
Childress, who’s dealing with a torn pectoral muscle, also didn’t practice Sunday. Holgorsen said their status for the rest of the week is still up in the air, and a decision on which quarterback will start against the Bears will be based on what happens on the practice field.
“If they’re 100 percent right now, we would probably go with Clint, because he did a good job of keeping plays alive and had some savvy to him,” said Holgorsen. “He reacted to the game of football pretty well.
“If he’s half speed and Ford’s 100 percent, it would probably make sense to go with Ford (who started in a win over Georgia State and a loss to Maryland). If they’re both 50 percent, it might make more sense to go with Paul (Millard, who started the season’s first two games against William & Mary and Oklahoma). That’s why you practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Your health makes a lot of difference.”
With a veteran quarterback, Holgorsen said, practice wouldn’t be quite as important. But with the three unexperienced passers on the WVU roster, it’s nearly impossible to play on Saturday without practicing through the week.
“They need to practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, because we’re dealing with three guys that are so inexperienced,” said Holgorsen. “If they can’t practice Tuesday and Wednesday, I doubt I’m going to put one of them in there on Thursday to play Saturday. These guys need the reps, and if they don’t get the reps during the week, I’m not going to feel very good about it.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.