Steady in the line of fire
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - For all that Ford Childress accomplished during his first college football game last week against Georgia State, it was one rather obscure play that signaled to West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen that he might have his quarterback of the future.
It wasn't any of Childress' three touchdown passes or his longest gain. It wasn't a read or a throw he made. It wasn't even his grasp of the offense or the communication with the sideline and the rest of the offense that Holgorsen values so highly.
No, it was actually a play that didn't matter. It came in the fourth quarter, West Virginia already up 34-7 and the game well in hand. On a third-and-12 play, Georgia State blitzed from Childress' blind side with three pass rushers. The left side of the line picked up two, but the running back double-teamed with the tackle on one of the rushers, leaving the third with a free shot at the quarterback. He took it, administering the hardest hit of the day to Childress.
But he got rid of the ball. On the other end, Daikiel Shorts made the catch despite taking a hard hit himself. It was a 26-yard gain, but it didn't even lead to a score. A few plays later WVU punted.
That one play, though, spoke volumes to Holgorsen.
"We didn't do a great job with some of our protection, but him getting hit was actually kind of encouraging,'' Holgorsen said. "He stood in there and didn't get rattled and got right back up and went back to work.''
Chances are, Childress is going to get hit more than a couple of times Saturday when he makes his second start. The Mountaineers (2-1) face Maryland (3-0) at M&T Bank Stadium (3:30 p.m. kickoff, ESPNU) and the Terps will pressure WVU's quarterback far more than Georgia State.
In fact, Holgorsen expects Maryland to come at Childress relentlessly. The Terps will go so far as to leave their secondary vulnerable by committing the safeties to the pass rush and stopping the run - a zero blitz - and Childress and the Mountaineers have to be ready for it.
They got only a small taste of it last week.
"They probably did it six times. They got to us twice, hit us twice and we did the right thing twice,'' Holgorsen said of the Panthers. "That's not good enough.
"I'm not so sure [the Terps] don't come out doing it every single snap. If they do, then we've got to be able to handle it. I hope they zero blitz us every snap.''
Handling the blitz, though, is just one thing that Holgorsen said Childress needs to improve upon this week and as the season progresses.
"He's got a long way to go,'' Holgorsen said. "He hasn't played a whole lot of football. He played two years of high school football and this was the first game in college he'd ever played. He's relatively raw at the quarterback position and has a lot of things he's got to work on.''
Childress, though, seems at least to have a grasp of what to expect and how to handle it. And that's the first step.
"They're probably going to blitz me and put pressure on me. I know that,'' the redshirt freshman said of Maryland. "I think what we have to do is line up in formations that keep them off balance and don't allow them to do what they want to do.''
Again, there are other things Holgorsen wants Childress to improve upon. He wasn't thrilled with his quarterback's sense of urgency against Georgia State. That includes being able to increase the tempo of the offense when the time is right.
"I'm still not happy with our tempo, so I got on him a little bit in the fourth quarter about that,'' Holgorsen said. "A lot of it's me [and] the coaches as far as how we coach tempo, but he's got to help us with that when he's out there. He's got to move people along, get guys lined up, get it communicated and snap it. So we've still got a ways to go with tempo.''
Holgorsen also mentioned Childress' accuracy - "He probably threw four or five balls that I thought were pretty easy to complete and he didn't get that done'' - as well as his timing and continuity with his receivers.
All in all, though, Holgorsen likes what he has to work with going forward.
"There's going to be growing pains. He's going to make mistakes,'' Holgorsen said. "Everybody does.
"He's got a long way to go, but I expect him to continue to get better.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.