Better, but still more work to do
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It's hard to fault the numbers that Ford Childress put up in his first college football game Saturday.
West Virginia's redshirt freshman quarterback completed 25 of 41 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns in the Mountaineers' 41-7 win over Georgia State. He threw an interception and was sacked once, but all in all it was the kind of performance coach Dana Holgorsen was looking for after two games of missed opportunities and lackluster offense.
So why weren't Holgorsen or offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson or even Childress raving about the performance? Well, because while it was certainly an improvement, there is obviously a lot of work still to do.
"It's frustrating,'' Dawson said after his offense produced 604 yards. "We can be good. But everybody's still taking an opportunity to shoot ourselves in the foot.''
Childress took advantage of open receivers all over the field against a poor defense to complete passes to nine different players. Even on some of his biggest plays - all of his TD throws were over 20 yards and he also had a 43-yarder - he only had to be moderately accurate because his receivers were so open.
But even at that there were still dropped passes and missed throws all afternoon in front of a surprisingly large crowd of 57,440, all of which left pretty much everyone involved seemingly encouraged, but perhaps cautious, as well.
Even Childress, who broke by 102 yards Scott McBrien's 2000 school record for passing yards by a freshman, was low key about his success.
"I thought it went pretty well,'' the 6-foot-5, 243-pounder from Houston said after playing in a college football game for the first time. "There are some balls I'd like to have back, but overall I thought it went pretty well.''
Perhaps the cautiousness is due to the fact that even though West Virginia was clearly never in danger of losing, it was the fourth quarter until the game was really put away. The Mountaineers led just 17-0 at halftime and 20-7 going into the fourth quarter. And that was against a Georgia State team that trailed FCS foe Tennessee-Chattanooga 42-0 at that point a week ago.
Childress and the offense had their struggles. He threw his first touchdown pass to freshman Daikiel Shorts, from 21 yards, on the second series and it was 10-0. But from there until the fourth quarter the Mountaineers went seven series and scored just one more touchdown, that when Ivan McCartney got ridiculously free behind the Panther defense and Childress lobbed to him a 45-yard TD throw.
That stretch of seven largely unsuccessful series - it included two punts, an interception, a fourth-down sack and a missed field goal - left Dawson wondering if anyone was ever going to start making plays.
"We've got to have some guys step up and start making plays with the football,'' Dawson said. "But at least statistically we put something together.''
Indeed, statistically at least there was nothing at all wrong with West Virginia's performance. Consider that the Mountaineers rolled up those 604 yards of total offense and had the sort of pass-heavy "balance'' that Holgorsen cherishes. WVU ran for 245 yards to go with Childress' 359 passing yards, the Mountaineers had 30 first downs, converted nearly half (eight of 17) of their third downs and punted just three times. All but one of WVU's 13 possessions reached into Georgia State territory.
The WVU defense was working, too. The Panthers punted on 10 of their 13 legitimate possessions, gained just 220 yards, completed only eight passes and got nearly half their 136 rushing yards on their only scoring play, a 65-yard run by Travis Evans. Thirteen times Georgia State faced third downs and failed to convert on 10 of them.
And still it wasn't until the fourth quarter that the game became a blowout. Charles Sims, who rushed for 116 yards on 18 carries, scored from 32 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter and Shorts made a diving catch in the end zone for his second TD catch of the game three minutes later. That made it 34-7 and Dreamius Smith rounded out the scoring with a 10-yard run in the waning seconds.
Still, perhaps it was a step in the right direction. In the first two games - a win over William & Mary and a loss to Oklahoma - Paul Millard had a few (although not nearly as many) chances to hit open receivers and didn't. Childress did. He and the West Virginia offense might not be anywhere near the well-oiled machine of last season, but it might be a step closer now to being competent.
"I thought he did a good job of just being in the game,'' Holgorsen said of his rookie quarterback. "And that's what we're looking for. If you have a guy like that, then he can bring a lot of other guys along.''
They had better begin coming along fast, though, because that might be it for West Virginia this season as far as easy opponents are concerned. Next week the Mountaineers play Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and then the following week resume Big 12 play by hosting Oklahoma State.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.