By Cam Huffman
Dana Holgorsen may be looking into the cost of placing an ad in the classifieds looking for an injury-free quarterback with some eligibility.
After six weeks of debating which quarterback should start for the West Virginia University football team — a more controversial topic than Obamacare in the Mountain State, at times — the Mountaineer head coach had finally settled on his “guy.” But as WVU (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) prepares to head to Kansas on Saturday, the starting position is, once again, a major question mark.
The journey to this point has been one Holgorsen would probably prefer be erased from his memory.
Junior Paul Millard got the first chance out of fall camp, but after a less-than-impressive 24-17 win over Football Championship Subdivision member William & Mary and a 16-7 loss at Oklahoma, where the offense looked to be treating the end zone as if it were filled with sewage, Holgorsen turned to redshirt freshman Ford Childress to start against Georgia State.
Childress and the Mountaineers won 41-7 against the Football Bowl Subdivision’s newest, and perhaps worst, team, prompting Holgorsen, weary of the competition, to label the tall lefty the winner.
With the job in hand, Childress proceeded to throw for a whopping total of 62 yards in a 37-0 loss to Maryland in Baltimore, throwing two interceptions while failing to toss a touchdown. He looked about as comfortable with the ball in his hands as a fan sitting in a seat filled with rocks and nails.
Making matters worse, it was revealed just prior to WVU’s meeting with No. 11 Oklahoma State the next week that Childress had a pectoral injury and would be out an unknown length of time.
Instead of going back to Millard, Holgorsen turned to the third option, junior Florida State transfer Clint Trickett. The skinny but gritty signal caller responded by leading WVU to its biggest win of the season, a 30-21 victory over the Cowboys, and he’s been the starter since.
Trickett went just 1-3 in his next four starts, the only win a 30-27 overtime decision over TCU, but the Mountaineers were competitive against Kansas State and No. 16 Texas Tech, and the 73-42 loss to Baylor was something that plenty of other teams have experienced, as well.
After playing what Holgorsen called his best half of football against TCU, Trickett seemed to be moving in the right direction heading into Saturday’s game with Texas.
The first quarter couldn’t have gone any worse. Trickett completed just 2 of 4 passes for 31 yards in the opening frame. He put the ball on the ground twice, turning one of the fumbles over to the Longhorns.
It was on that play that Trickett stayed down on the field, eventually leaving the game with a head injury.
Millard came in, and his performance was just as inconsistent.
The offense seemed to move a little better with Millard at the helm — actually causing the chain gang to get a little exercise on the sideline — and he completed 16 of 32 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown, allowing WVU to stay in the game against a Texas team still undefeated in Big 12 play.
On the other side of the coin, Millard tossed two interceptions and fumbled twice, perhaps keeping the Mountaineers from closing the deal on what could have been a huge win for a program that seems to be stuck in quicksand.
“I was really happy with how Paul went in there and played,” said Holgorsen Monday, giving his evaluation of the up-and-down performance. “His ball security was obviously terrible, and we need to work on that. But as far as running the offense and giving us a chance to win, I thought he performed pretty good.”
That nod of confidence, as well as Trickett’s uncertain injury status, has again opened the competition.
Holgorsen was still unsure Monday if Trickett would be cleared to play in Saturday’s game at Kansas, a must-win contest for WVU to keep its bowl hopes alive.
“It’s all based on practice,” said the third-year coach. “He came in, was alert and gave us the thumbs up. He was in the meetings, but there’s a little bit of a progression that they’ve got to do anytime there’s a head (injury) involved. They’ve got to do some non-contact stuff before releasing him.”
Holgorsen knows that musical chairs — or pin the start on the quarterback — isn’t the best game to play with quarterbacks, and he attributed the lack of a true starter to some of the struggles that are occurring with offenses across the usually high-powered Big 12.
“I think the only team in the Big 12 that’s been able to (play a consistent starter at quarterback) this year is Baylor, and they’re obviously having a ton of success,” said Holgorsen. “But it’s just part of the game. You can’t use it as an excuse not to be successful.
“We’ve played three different guys. They’ve all taken snaps, they’ve all won games and they understand what we’re trying to do on offense. But at this point in the season, it comes down to a health thing. Whichever guy can get out there and play at a high level because of his health gives you the best chance to win.”
Saturday’s game in Lawrence, Kan., is scheduled for a noon kickoff and will air live on Fox Sports Net. The Jayhawks (2-7, 0-6) are the conference’s bottom team and have not won a league game since knocking off Colorado on Nov. 6, 2010.
— E-mail: chuffman@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.