Trickett is still learning QB duties
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - If West Virginia's 30-21 upset of then-No. 11 Oklahoma State last Saturday did nothing else it served to illustrate just why Clint Trickett is the most effective quarterback the Mountaineers have right now.
Unlike his immediate predecessors, Paul Millard and Ford Childress, Trickett made things happen.
Dana Holgorsen talked at length during August and the first few weeks of the season about the need to have a quarterback who could execute the offense, and both Millard and Childress were light years ahead of Trickett in that regard. Both have been in the system longer - Millard 21/2 years, Childress 11/2 - and Trickett was trying to cram all that knowledge into just a few short weeks.
For that reason, Millard and Childress got the first shots. For the most part, they succeeded in running the system, but not in making plays. When Trickett got his chance, he didn't always run the system the right way, but he made things happen.
In retrospect, it's easy to criticize Holgorsen for failing to recognize that earlier. And he has been criticized. Indeed, throughout the process he would every once in a while admit that Trickett was the most savvy of his quarterbacks and the one most likely to add a spark, but he couldn't bring himself to pull the trigger on using the Florida State transfer because he wasn't yet comfortable with the system.
And if Holgorsen is nothing else, he's a believer in his system.
But Saturday's game also went a long way toward illustrating just what it was that made Holgorsen so uneasy about using Trickett. Given all the new parts in West Virginia's offense (not just at quarterback, but virtually everywhere), Holgorsen wanted someone to execute his system. The only thing worse than having rookies all over the field is having rookies with no structure. The system would at least give them structure, but not unless the quarterback was adept - or at least competent - at executing it.
When a combination of circumstances - ineffectiveness and injury - conspired to leave Holgorsen no real choice but to use the new guy, Trickett showed him that sometimes simple football acumen is better than any set of X's and O's.
Take that, Air Raid.
Holgorsen's thinking, though, is still valid. If Trickett can make plays and make things happen even without an acute knowledge of the system, what happens when he does become comfortable? Trickett still isn't adept at executing it. It can be argued that he's not even competent.
That's not a knock on Trickett, who was smart enough to graduate from Florida State in 31/2 years and seems like one of the most level-headed guys you'll ever find. But even more than any X's and O's, what has always made Holgorsen's offense so good is the communication between the quarterback and the sideline. It's constant, perhaps more so than in any other offense in football. If that communication isn't just right, the whole thing risks blowing up.
That's always what made Holgorsen uncomfortable about Trickett and willing to sacrifice skills and intangibles for smooth communication.
"There were times in the game when I signaled a play to him and he looked at me like I was from outer space,'' Holgorsen said. "That's when I threw my fits. It's just frustrating. It's like communicating with someone who speaks a different language.
"The language that he learned at Florida State is different from the language we teach here, obviously. It's taken him some time.''
Truth be told, it's far from finished, either. Again, the way Holgorsen works, communication is more essential than in perhaps any offense in football. You can argue that it's overdone or that he's a control freak or anything else you like, but it's one of the things that has made his offense successful over the years. And it's way more than just sign language to signal plays. Everyone does that. It's reading and reacting and communicating again. It's changing things and reading again and maybe changing the play.
"He may change the play altogether,'' Holgorsen said. "But he has no clue how to do that at this point.
"He has to learn that and then know what to do with the ball. That's a whole different thing. That's experience. The good news is that when he snaps the ball he reacts to the game of football and that's what's good about him.''
It's also the dilemma Holgorsen faced from the beginning of the season. It was apparent as camp wore down that Trickett was the best and most experienced quarterback, but what if the offense - with all those new parts - fell apart because he wasn't adept at running it?
"We got to a point where we had to make a decision and just go with it,'' Holgorsen said. "I don't think anyone would have been happy about losing to William & Mary.''
And so the next week he wasn't going to throw a guy who had never run the offense into a game at Oklahoma, so he stuck with Millard. When that didn't work out and he still didn't feel comfortable with Trickett, he went to Childress. Only when his hand was forced did Holgorsen try Trickett, and by that time he at least had a working knowledge of the communication aspect.
It's far from a finished product, though.
"We've been practicing that all week. We just walk by each other and do it,'' Holgorsen said. "I had a real good one for him the other day, but hopefully you all didn't see that one.
"It's two people communicating. I have to get better at it and he's got to get better at it. We've both got to get better at it. Through games and through practices we'll improve on that. It's not just getting the signal. It's getting it and relaying it to everyone else. That's just the job of a quarterback. We do it a little bit differently than what Clint's used to, and we're going to adapt as coaches. He will adapt and we will get better.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.