By Cam Huffman
West Virginia’s performance in Saturday’s 41-7 win over Georgia State looked a little more like a Dana Holgorsen offense.
After averaging just 15.5 points and 398 yards of offense in the first two games — a 24-17 win over William & Mary and a 16-7 loss at Oklahoma — WVU’s numbers against the Panthers were a little more on par with the Holgorsen norm. The Mountaineers scored 41 points and ended the game with 604 yards of total offense. Of those yards, 359 came through the air, as Holgorsen’s attack lived up to its “Air Raid” nickname.
After Saturday’s game, though, offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson wasn’t exactly gushing over his team like Lou Holtz analyzing Notre Dame. In fact, he sounded a little more like Bobby Knight after losing a tournament game on a controversial foul call.
“It was a frustrating game overall,” said Dawson, who was the offensive coordinator at Millsaps and Stephen F. Austin before joining Holgorsen, his former position coach at Wingate, in Morgantown. “For some reason, we spit and sputter, drop balls, leave (defenders) wide open running through gaps and things like that. Statistically, we put some things together and won the game, so I guess that was positive.”
The bulk of Dawson’s concern wasn’t with the running game, which averaged 5.8 yards per carry and netted 245 yards, but instead with the aerial assault. Redshirt-freshman Ford Childress, making his first collegiate start, threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns, but he also threw 17 incomplete passes — some his fault and some drops by the WVU wide receivers.
“(Georgia State) did a pretty good job of stopping the run and making us throw the football,” said Dawson. “We’ve got to have somebody step up and make a play. Catching it would be a good start.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot. They stack the box, so we throw a vertical and we drop it. Those plays need to be routine, and they’re not right now. It’s all confidence. We just have to make a couple to build confidence. We did make a few, but we’ve got to be able to make more.”
Part of that is getting the right guys on the field at the right times. Looking to jumpstart the offense, Holgorsen and Dawson started Mario Alford and Ronald Carswell Saturday, moving Daikiel Shorts and KJ Myers into backup roles.
Myers ended up leading the team with six catches, and Shorts caught five for a team-best 88 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“It’s frustrating,” said Holgorsen of the inconsistent performances. “We’re identifying the guys we can trust and the guys we can’t trust. We’re identifying the guys that know their roles and the guys that don’t know their roles. We’ll continue to do that over the course of the next eight weeks.”
Finding the right quarterback is also critical. Junior Paul Millard won the three-man battle to earn the starting position in the opener against William & Mary, beating out another junior, Florida State transfer Clint Trickett. Millard played all but two series in that game and the entire four quarters in the loss to Oklahoma.
The competition was reopened after that defeat, and Childress ended up going from third team to starter. On Sunday, he was named the Athlon Sports National Freshman of the Week.
Childress is expected to start Saturday when WVU hits the road to take on Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md.
“None of them have any experience,” said Dawson. “Right now, we’ve got to find out who can step up and make plays under pressure. (Childress) had a great week of practice. The kids rallied around him, and he did well in the game. So I’m pleased.”
Overall, though, Dawson is just about out of patience. But he’s confident the offense will eventually hit its stride.
“We haven’t done anything in the last few games that we haven’t done the last 15 years,” said Dawson, referring to his success at Stephen F. Austin and elsewhere and Holgorsen’s success at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State. “We’ve just got to have some people step up and start making plays on the football.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.