Tale of the Tape

  • By Jed Drenning
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  • July 30, 2013 11:44 AM
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Radio sideline reporter Jed Drenning is providing periodic commentary on the Mountaineer football program for WVUsports.com. Be sure to order a copy of Jed’s 2013 Big 12 preview magazine, available throughout the state. For more from Jed, you can follow him on Twitter @TheSignalCaller

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen will have a pair of touted offensive transfers at his disposal when training camp begins on Thursday.

Let’s start with newcomer Clint Trickett, formerly of Florida State. Trickett will jump headlong this week into a highly anticipated race with junior Paul Millard and redshirt freshman Ford Childress for the coveted starting quarterback job in Holgorsen’s offense.

Trickett’s 17 game appearances at Florida State give us a nice body of work to draw from. The first meaningful action of his career came under incredibly adverse conditions. As a redshirt freshman in 2011, Trickett entered the game for an injured E.J. Manuel against No. 1-ranked Oklahoma in the third quarter with the Seminoles trailing 13-3. With no ground game to lean on (FSU running backs combined for just 4 yards on 13 carries), a batch of young backs at his side who were blowing pass protection assignments at every turn and with his team already in the hole by double digits, all hell was breaking loose in front of the largest crowd in Doak Campbell Stadium history and Trickett had nowhere to hide.

But Trickett wasn’t interested in hiding. He was focused instead on breathing life into a stagnant offense – and he did just that.

I spent the first two years of my college career with FSU headman Jimbo Fisher as my quarterback coach, and I can tell you firsthand he’s a guy who believes in rolling the dice. That was apparent on Trickett’s first snap against the Sooners. The ‘Noles immediately attacked all-Big 12 cornerback Jamell Fleming with a Trickett deep ball that caught OU by surprise, drawing an interference call.

Trickett followed that up with completions on his next two throws, marching FSU to midfield. On the next play, the Sooners secondary parked two safeties up high and showed man coverage underneath. Trickett caught the shotgun snap and took inventory of the field. He saw his slot receiver – Jarred Haggins – cross the nickel back’s face and split the two safeties on a bent seam route. Trickett quickly reacted by firing the ball to a spot down the middle that allowed a diving Haggins to track it down for a 24-yard pick up. Great read, great throw. The play helped set up a field goal that cut the OU lead to a touchdown.

Two possessions later, with the Seminoles still trailing 13-6 inside of 10 minutes to go in the game, FSU found itself facing a third and 28 at its own 44-yard line. From the shotgun, Trickett took the snap. In the Oklahoma secondary, Sooners’ safety Javon Harris was hovering over top with deep responsibility for one half of the field. With cornerback Fleming maintaining a trail position in man coverage on the post-corner cut made by FSU receiver Rashad Greene, Trickett ripped the ball to the only spot that could give Greene a chance to haul it in – inside Fleming but underneath Harris. Despite Greene’s route presenting the only vertical threat to his deep zone, Harris was slow to break on the throw and took a poor angle. Greene snatched the ball from between the two OU defenders and raced 56 yards for the touchdown. Just like that, Trickett had come off the bench stone cold to help his team storm back and tie the top-ranked team in the land.

The Seminoles ultimately fell short against Oklahoma, but the young signal caller had established himself as a catalyst for an offense in need of a spark against a premier opponent.

A week later against unbeaten Clemson in Death Valley, Trickett made his first start and on his very first throw he showcased his decisiveness as a passer. With Clemson setting up shop in a two-deep coverage, Florida State attacked the Tigers with an ideal route combination and Trickett took advantage of it with a crisp read and throw. FSU sent its outside receiver on a quick out while the slot executed a post-corner route to attack the deep (typically 18-24 yards) soft spot in the outside portion of the Clemson zone. In this route concept, the QB’s throw is based on how he reads the playside cornerback. If the corner sinks to absorb the deeper route, he hits the underneath out. On the other hand, if the corner sits in the flat area to respect the quick out the quarterback is expected to lead the slot receiver into the hole on the post-corner route with a firm delivery. A quick read and a strong throw are both critical elements here to prevent the cornerback from hovering in the gray area between the two routes. Trickett provided both. The instant the cornerback widened his base to squat on the quick out, Trickett fired on target to the deeper post-corner route, resulting in a 21-yard completion to Florida State’s Christian Green. Picture perfect.

Trickett got off to a fast start against the Tigers, throwing for more than 100 yards in the first quarter, including a 57-yard touchdown strike that put to rest any questions about his arm strength. In the closing seconds of that opening quarter, FSU faced a third and 10 from its own 43-yard line. Clemson rushed four and dropped seven into coverage, but Trickett was forced out of the pocket. He was flushed to his left where he reset his feet just inside the numbers on that side of the field. He took another quick survey of the secondary, then, with his lead foot planted on Florida State’s 39-yard line, he launched the ball deep and to his right. FSU’s Rodney Smith had slipped behind Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson on the backside and Trickett’s throw landed perfectly in his hands as he raced across the goal line 61 yards downfield (just inside the right side hash mark). Factoring in the angle of the throw, the football travelled somewhere in the range of 65 yards in the air. Trust me, folks – without getting into the whole debate over the impact (or not) that the blustery venues of the Big 12 can have on a passer - that’s all the arm strength a heads-up quarterback needs to make big things happen in Dana Holgorsen’s offense.

Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston (the crown jewel of FSU’s 2012 recruiting class) was the toast of Florida State’s Gold-Garnet Spring Game, ostensibly giving him the inside track for the starting job in Tallahassee. Four days later, Trickett announced his intention to transfer and soon after that, West Virginia became his destination. After watching Trickett learn the ropes under a guy who knows a thing or two about developing QBs (three of Jimbo Fisher’s last four starters have landed in the first round of the NFL Draft), I’m eager to monitor his continued growth under Holgorsen, a coach who has helped produce a 4,000-yard passer in 11 straight seasons.

Now let’s shift from the passing game to the ground game and take a look at another highly anticipated West Virginia transfer – running back Charles Sims, formerly of Houston.

On June 24, Gil Brandt, longtime Dallas Cowboys general manager and one of pro football’s most respected talent evaluators, sent out an interesting tweet about Sims. Brandt referred to Sims as one of his top five senior running backs and predicted that he would post Adrian Peterson-like speed and strength numbers at the NFL combine next spring.

Make no mistake about it – Sims will almost certainly play on Sundays. But to clarify, Brandt of course wasn’t suggesting Sims is the next Adrian Peterson. He was merely indicating that his physical skills are off the charts. Please understand this distinction before you text Uncle Sparky to tell him we have a Hall of Fame running back in Morgantown this fall.

One interesting thing about the addition of Sims: the West Virginia roster will now be populated by not one, not two, but three different backs with a 200-yard rushing performance on their résumé. Dustin Garrison gashed Bowling Green for 291 as a freshman in 2011, Andrew Buie, of course, ripped off 207 at Texas last October and now WVU is adding Sims, a guy who ran for 210 in one game last season and in 2011 shredded Tulane with 207 yards (on just 10 carries). I can’t recall many programs having a trio of 200-yard rushers sitting in their RB meeting room each week.

After an 0-3 start last year that included woeful performances against Texas State (13 points) and UCLA (six points), Houston made an obvious effort to get Sims more involved in the hopes that he could ignite a sagging offense. In the next three games, UH fed Sims the football 83 times (71 rushes, 12 receptions) and he responded with 641 yards from scrimmage. The Cougars won all three games.

Sims can change the flow of a game in an instant and it’s easy to see his explosiveness on tape, though defenders often seem surprised by it. Despite all his speed and quickness, he plays with the decisiveness of a north-south runner. Stylistically he’s less water bug than he is puma; less “shake-n-bake” than “jab-n-go;” less Noel Devine than Steve Slaton.

Sims is an explosive, one-cut ball carrier who bends runs at warp speed. Like Slaton, Sims runs with a relatively high pad level but still manages to use his strength to fight through traffic. More than you might think, he makes a living with deliberate cuts between the tackles but he does possess the burst to bounce to the edge and the speed to outrun angles when the situation dictates. If you see Sims reach the second level against a defender one-on-one in space, things get ugly for that defender in a hurry. That’s when Sims is at his best: with his motor revved up in the open field. He’s not the type of back who is blessed with the resourcefulness to consistently sniff out a crease when things are bottled up at the line of scrimmage, but he will smoke you like yesterday’s barbeque if he gets any kind of daylight.

Sims’ 158 career receptions aren’t an accident. In the passing game he represents a matchup nightmare for linebackers and – in some cases – for nickel backs. He has a great “feel” as a route runner, particularly downfield. His knack for sniffing out the soft spot in a zone is almost on par with that of a cagey slot receiver.

Sims is a “wow factor” back with the ability to turn singles into home runs. Throw in the tape of Houston’s win at UTEP in 2011: Sims hauls in a flare screen and – just as he appears to be bottled up in traffic near the Miners’ sidelines – he turns a pair of poor tackling efforts into an electrifying 84-yard touchdown.

He’s a complete running back who can literally give as good as he can receive. Sims weighs more than 200 pounds and when you watch him function in pass protection situations his size – along with his versatility and strength - jump out at you. He’s better than most at reading and reacting to his keys and he’s not afraid to throw a shoulder (or more) into blitzers. He’ll do everything from chop down cornerbacks who blitz off the edge to lunge into the teeth of the pass rush to keep defenders out of the quarterback’s face.

Go back and review the first score of Houston’s Ticket City Bowl win over Penn State two seasons ago - a 40-yard touchdown pass by Cougars’ triggerman Case Keenum on 3rd down and long. It was made possible when Sims diagnosed a Nittany Lions “cross” blitz package and secured the pocket by stonewalling a rushing inside linebacker who had tried to sneak in through the backside A-gap.

Holgorsen made the most of Sims’ broad skill set at Houston in 2009 and I expect that he’ll do the same with Sims as part of the arsenal in Morgantown this fall.

Trickett and Sims represent just two of several new pieces of the puzzle for West Virginia in 2013. If you’re wondering exactly what their roles will be, take a number. With fall camp inching closer by the hour, we’ll find out soon enough.

Until then, I’ll see you at the fifty.


Charles Sims, Clint Trickett, West Virginia Mountaineers, WVU, Big 12 Conference football

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