Mountaineer QB battle ramps up
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - On Tuesday, West Virginia held its first padded practice, Wednesday brought about the first two-practice day and Thursday was when the Mountaineers began transitioning from teaching to actual doing with situational drills.
Why is all of that significant? Well, because it means coach Dana Holgorsen can now seriously begin the process of choosing his starting quarterback.
Not that he's in any hurry to divulge the winner, mind you. By his own estimate, it will be the end of pre-classes camp a week from Saturday until the evaluations are complete. And in a perfect world, it wouldn't be until right before the Aug. 31 season opener with William & Mary until he makes his decision known.
"I'd be surprised if you don't know. With social media - and we try to get our guys to keep as much what happens inside the building to the people that need to know - but with social media and emotions, I would be surprised if you don't know,'' Holgorsen said Thursday. "But I don't know if I'll tell you or not. We probably want everyone to be in the dark like everybody else does, but we won't go into the first game without a clue of who is going to be the first guy.''
So why does the process start now? Well, Wednesday was the sixth day of preseason camp, meaning Holgorsen and the offensive coaches have twice gone through their three-day teaching rotation, which is little more than lining up and running the offense, sometimes against defenses but primarily against air.
With the third cycle that began Thursday, defense and situations are introduced. There will be third-down situations, red-zone situations, pretty much everything the offense has to do under pressure. The quarterback who shows he can handle those situations the best will have the upper hand.
Everything the quarterbacks - and everyone else, for that matter - have done to this point has been evaluated, Holgorsen said, but now they will be put under duress.
"The situational drills will separate players, especially quarterbacks,'' Holgorsen said. "When we get into situations and they're able to handle them and they're able to get us in good situations and execute it, from a quarterback point of view that will help us separate who is one, two and three. Then defensively, when you go live, it's can you get them on the ground or can you not get them on the ground, from a tackling point of view.''
For the quarterbacks, the rotations change now, too. Up until now, holdovers Paul Millard and Ford Childress, along with transfer Clint Trickett, split the reps with the offense evenly. Over the course of the final week-plus of camp, two quarterbacks will split the reps evenly each day, with each quarterback rotating into and out of the two-man battle. By the end of camp, each will have had equal opportunities.
Holgorsen would like to choose his starter as soon as possible, and there is the possibility that he could do so in a matter of days if one of the three clearly rises above the others. But even if that happens, he would likely let the competition play out until the end of camp.
Eventually, though, he needs to settle on someone because, as he admits, the offense needs to get used to one guy, and that one guy needs to settle into the job.
But he'd still rather keep it all behind closed doors and not even announce a winner.
"It depends on how clear cut it is. If it's really close, then we're going to keep it as close to the vest as we can. If it's clear-cut, then we'll probably let you know,'' Holgorsen said. "If it is that close, it makes my job harder. It's no different here than it is anywhere else in the country. If you get one, two or three quality guys in a position battle, then obviously at some point you have to make a decision. The closer it is the harder it is.
"Those decisions are not easy when you're talking about who's going to play and not going to play. It affects kids' lives. These are guys that are working hard, and someone is going to be the guy and somebody is not. It's hard to deal with if you're not the guy.''
As he's said in the past, splitting the job between two quarterbacks isn't likely.
"I've never done it and don't plan on doing it,'' Holgorsen said. "It doesn't mean that we can't have two that are ready to play. Guys get hurt and go down all the time. That's a reality in college football and that's one thing the second-team guy always has to keep in mind. They're a play away from getting in and playing a lot of ball.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.