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Hickman: Right back where we started

The Associated Press
Mountaineers quarterback Paul Millard (14) couldn't get much going Saturday in a loss at Oklahoma.

MORGANTOWN - More than once Monday morning, Dana Holgorsen mentioned how much he liked where West Virginia's football team is after two weeks of the season.

Presumably he wasn't referring to practicing for a game against perhaps the worst college football team in the country, but instead a broader, more intangible place.

"You know, I've not been discouraged with our team,'' Holgorsen said. "I don't know if anybody else has been, but I haven't been discouraged with our team.''

And truth is, maybe he shouldn't be. After all, despite a less-than-glowing resume - a struggle-filled win over William & Mary and a mistake-filled loss at far-more-daunting Oklahoma - the Mountaineers have actually shown some signs of life.

Consider that the defense isn't awful. After last season, anything would have been an improvement, but so far this group is leaps and bounds better.

The special teams have actually been pretty good. Really. Kickoffs and kick coverage have been good, the mustachioed punter has a big leg, no one has returned a punt for much of anything and the field goal kicker's only miss was from another zip code. The glaring mistakes (a muffed punt and a roughing the punter foul) were absolutely huge gaffes, but they aren't endemic of bad special teams play, just mistakes.

And on offense, there seem to be some playmakers. There are actually more than a year ago, when those guys numbered just three or four. It's hard to look at West Virginia's backs and receivers and not see a whole bunch of potential. In fact, there seems so much at receiver that this week's depth chart lists three new starters - Kevin White, Ronald Carswell and Mario Alford - and next week might have a third trio.

(That depth chart, by the way, also lists a new starter at center, Pat Eger, as well as some shuffling on defense for a variety of reasons.)

But then there's the quarterback issue. It's the one thing that overrides everything else, simply because the quarterback is so important to Holgorsen's teams. Always has been. And you

get the feeling that Holgorsen's optimism about this team is what it is because he realizes that fixing that one issue will cure a whole lot of ills.

And so fixing it is job one. But how to go about fixing it aside from opening the competition up again?

"I don't know what needs to happen,'' Holgorsen said. "Obviously it's success, but I don't know when it's going to happen to the point that I feel good about somebody and they take the bull by the horns and they lead the team to victories and they look good doing it.

"Until that happens, I would assume that we're going to continue to play all three.''

It begins this week in practice. Paul Millard, Clint Trickett and Ford Childress are likely to get equal chances once again to show just what they can do. They are all listed on the depth chart, separated by "or.'' You get the feeling talking to Holgorsen that not only does he not have a starting quarterback right now, he doesn't have a two or a three, either. They're all equal.

Millard? Well, it seems he got the job for the first two weeks because he was the one who was most ready. In August, Holgorsen wasn't so much looking for someone to start the opener, but to play the first two games. He knew he couldn't mess around juggling quarterbacks right up until the Oklahoma game, so the guy who emerged from preseason camp - barring just a complete crash and burn - was going to last two weeks, minimum.

Now, though, with what amounts to a scrimmage against wretched Georgia State on Saturday - and perhaps even the game with Maryland a week later, given that it's out of conference - all bets are off.

"We settled on Paul because we felt he gave us the best chance to win the opener and then travel to win the OU game,'' Holgorsen said. "But we told the other two guys at that point, too, that they needed to stay ready and keep improving and focus on the task at hand. What I'm going to tell them [this week] is the same thing. When you have an opportunity to get in there and rep, you need to get in there and rep.''

In the first two games, Millard has done pretty much the minimum that was expected of him, which is run the offense. It's the reason he won the job, because he was the best of the three at doing that.

But Holgorsen wants - needs - a quarterback who will do more. Yes, managing the offense is critical, but making plays is what elevates the offense from efficient to explosive.

Maybe that's Millard. You have to at least give him credit for going out and doing it the first two weeks, even if there were obvious mistakes. He was under a lot of pressure starting the opener with all eyes on him and under even more in a game at Oklahoma. Perhaps he has his feet under him now and can begin making the plays he didn't in those first two games.

Trickett? Well, he's undoubtedly the fan favorite, if for no other reason than he's next in line. The backup quarterback is always the most popular guy on a team with a struggling starter. And maybe an extra two weeks in the system is all he needed. Who knows?

And don't discount Childress, either. It can be argued - and Holgorsen argued it at the time - that the only reason he was put at No. 3 the week of the opener was because only two QBs could take practice reps that close to a game and he was the only one of the three without a lick of game experience.

And so it begins again, the same quarterback competition that began Aug. 1. The three will get their shots in practice and, perhaps, even Saturday against Georgia State. While Holgorsen would obviously prefer to decide on one and go with him, why not use a game that should be a scrimmage as exactly what scrimmages are for - to figure out who can play?

"I would rather not,'' Holgorsen said when asked if the competition could extend right into shared opportunities on Saturday. "But the with the current situation that exists, we're going to have to continue to practice until somebody probably takes the lead and leads the team to a victory and looks good doing it. Until then, we're probably going to have to continue to rep all three.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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