MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Just in case any question remained about the identity of West Virginia’s starting quarterback following Ford Childress’ record-setting performance Saturday, Dana Holgorsen, the coach who seemingly could not settle on a QB before the 41-7 win against Georgia state, was asked if the problem was solved.
“If it’s not,” Holgorsen said, “then I’m not very smart.”
Holgorsen proved providential by naming the redshirt freshman from Houston his starter Thursday night - two days before the game. In his collegiate debut, Childress completed 25 of 41 passes for 359 yards, the most ever by a Mountaineers freshman. His three touchdown passes were three times the total from WVU’s first two games.
Yet Childress won the starting quarterback job before he won Saturday’s game. He won it in a loss, in a game he didn’t even play in.
Holgorsen said he believed Childress was ready for an opportunity after witnessing the way Childress conducted himself on the sideline in the 16-7 loss at Oklahoma. Childress said he knew he was always auditioning for his chance.
“The backup quarterback should always have great body language and try to give positive energy on the sideline,” he said. “That was pretty much my job last year - that and charting plays - so for the first two games, all I really tried to do was have good body language and get everyone around me excited and wanting to win.”
Childress and junior Clint Trickett, who played just six snaps in the season’s first game against William & Mary and wasn’t used in relief of junior Paul Millard against the Sooners, shared snaps about evenly in Tuesday’s practice. They split things again Wednesday, though Childress took more. On Thursday, Childress handled about 80 percent of the reps, which is about normal for the starter.
Holgorsen said Childress hadn’t taken any practice reps before the first two games, but that what he saw during the Oklahoma game encouraged him to make the switch.
“Poise,” Holgorsen said. “He’s poised. When I talk to him, it doesn’t matter how I’m talking to him. I could be nice to him and I could be mean to him and he doesn’t let emotion get in the middle of it. I saw that last week on the sidelines. When things were tight in a high-pressure situation, he was the one who I saw being poised and being calm.”
When the Mountaineers began to unravel their three quarterbacks in camp, Holgorsen said similar things about Trickett, the transfer from Florida State who played in 17 games (two starts) in two seasons for the Seminoles.
He had a presence because of his experience. Millard had a little bit less playing time, but more time in WVU games. Childress had none of that, but that’s all changed now for the Mountaineers (2-1).
“It’s maturity,” Holgorsen said. “He was in redshirt mode. His first year-and-a-half was redshirt mode, I think, and you can’t just snap your fingers and get out of that when you’re sitting back and watching.
“I think he sat back and watched and in his mind was like, ‘Dang, I could be playing now.’ He sat on the sideline, like, ‘I can do that. I would have done this.’ He convinced himself it was his time to play and he got out there and played well.”
Childress is the first freshman to start for the Mountaineers since Pat White in 2005. The passing yardage topped Scott McBrien’s previous freshman record of 257 set in a loss to Pitt in 2000. McBrien would transfer the following year and go on to torment the Mountaineers as the Maryland quarterback.
WVU plays the Terrapins (3-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium.
“He threw some balls that would have set him up for a really good game if we make the play on them,” offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson said of Childress.
Aggravated by mistakes made against the Sooners, the Mountaineers started three new receivers against the Panthers (0-3), but saw many of the same errors. Childress counted a few dropped passes among his incomplete passes, including two by new starter Kevin White.
White, who lost a fumble in the red zone a week earlier, dropped two passes and one was a sure touchdown.
“It is frustrating, but they didn’t mean to drop it,” Childress said. “They go on to the next play and hopefully they’re going to catch it.”
Childress blamed himself for some lost yardage and squandered opportunities and highlighted a few long passes the Mountaineers thought they could exploit against a defense that was crowding the line of scrimmage to combat the run.
He connected with new starter Ronald Carswell on a 43-yard completion in the second quarter, but Childress was upset he didn’t lead Carswell more for a touchdown. Childress also thought he could have thrown a similar long ball to White farther and given him more room to run under and catch it.
A 45-yard touchdown pass to Ivan McCartney was effective, but McCartney had to slow down to catch the pass before beating the dispatched defender into the end zone.
“I think my deep balls are what I need to improve on most,” Childress said. “I tend to underthrow deep balls. I don’t want to overthrow them. I want to give them a shot, but I need to let it go to give them a shot.”