Two of a Kind
There used to be an old saying in football circles that went something like this … if you have two starting quarterbacks then you don’t have any quarterbacks. Well, it seems these days if you don’t have at least two quarterbacks then you might be in trouble.
For the longest time, West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen was a one-quarterback coach, opting to name a starter, develop him, and give him the majority of the reps. But Holgorsen is beginning to soften his stance a little bit on that, just like many other coaches around the country are also doing.
Bill O’Brien, another former one-quarterback guy, is now considering playing both Tyler Ferguson and Christian Mackenberg in Penn State’s season opener against Syracuse.
Steve Spurrier is planning on using Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson under center this year at South Carolina. Lane Kiffin will be doing likewise at USC with Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, and Mike Gundy is going to play two quarterbacks in Oklahoma State’s season opener against Mississippi State after successfully using three different quarterbacks last season.
Northwestern used a two-quarterback system in 2012 and plans on continuing that this season while others through the years – specifically Notre Dame last season, Virginia Tech in 2007 and Florida in 2006 – have rotated quarterbacks without any issues.
Can it work for West Virginia this Saturday with juniors Paul Millard and Clint Trickett? Holgorsen indicated earlier this week that he is willing to give it a try.
“Paul or Clint will start and they will both play,” said Holgorsen. “At this point, they’ve done nothing to warrant not playing quarterback here. It’s going to take some game reps and putting these guys in situations where they have to respond to really know what we’re working with.”
In a perfect world, Holgorsen admits that he would prefer to have a three-year starter ready to go under center with some younger guys backing him up. But that’s not the case this year at WVU, or at many other places around the country for that matter.
“What we’re dealing with right now is the same as what 30-50 other schools are dealing with. It’s college football and graduations happen. That opens the door for the next star to be born,” said Holgorsen.
WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson is also not accustomed to playing two quarterbacks and he would prefer to have one guy step in and take the reins and lead the offense. Right now that hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons.
“Both of them have different things to work on,” admitted Dawson. “Obviously, Paul has been here for a couple of years and Clint just got here. There are times when Clint is still processing things. There are times when Paul tries to do too much, in my opinion, but we’re going to see how they respond in a game and I think that will tell a lot.”
When playing two quarterbacks, there can be some tricky issues to consider; for instance, timing is a big one (quarterback-center exchange, how quickly receivers get off the ball and how quickly the running backs hit the hole, just to name a few). Also, if one guy is getting the majority of reps with the first group and the second guy isn’t, then that could be a problem when the No. 2 guy gets into the game. To alleviate that, however, Holgorsen has made sure to split the No. 1 reps between Millard and Trickett during practice.
Another consideration is how the second guy performs when he gets into the game. Will he try and force the issue and do too much to try and impress the coaches? That is always a concern whenever two quarterbacks are playing.
It will also be important for the coaches to observe how the quarterbacks are responding off the field, too. Holgorsen said Dawson is in charge of evaluating the decisions they make from up top in the coaches booth while Holgorsen will pay close attention to their body language and how they are interacting with their teammates on the sidelines. As of right now, both quarterbacks are saying and doing the right things.
“I don’t really look at it as battling against them,” said Trickett, a Florida State transfer. “I’m battling against a defense. No matter what the other guy does you’ve still got to do your job.”
Millard has a similar opinion, “It has been working so far throughout camp. We split reps the majority of camp while offensively we were still getting better. Whoever they put into the game is going to have to perform, and that’s what I’m here to do,” he said.
Performance is always the bottom line, whether it’s with one, two or three quarterbacks. In the past, West Virginia has actually had some success starting the season with two starting quarterbacks.
In 2005, Rich Rodriguez couldn’t decide between Adam Bednarik and Pat White so he chose to play both until White locked up the job for good after West Virginia’s three-overtime victory over Louisville. The Mountaineers ran the table that season in Big East play and went on to defeat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
Twenty years ago, in 1993, Don Nehlen had a tough time choosing between Darren Studstill and Notre Dame transfer Jake Kelchner so both played. Kelchner usually started the games with Studstill coming off the bench at a predetermined time to throw opposing defenses off balance. It worked magnificently with West Virginia posting an 11-0 regular season record and facing Florida in the Sugar Bowl because both players put the success of the team ahead of themselves.
“We knew we had something special that year and you just tried to make the most of your opportunities,” Studstill explained. “I really wasn’t concerned about what the whole perception was, it was just staying focused on what I had to do on the field and make the best of my opportunities.”
Added Kelchner: “The good thing about college football is it’s so much more of a team-oriented organization than, say, the NFL. Guys are going to buy into it more.”
What really helped the situation, according to Studstill, was the fact that a team-oriented atmosphere was fostered from the top down, beginning with Coach Don Nehlen.
“I think that Coach at that time set the culture. There wasn’t any conflict at that time,” said Studstill. “Yes, we both were competitors so we both wanted to be on the field - and that’s a given with every college athlete - but I don’t think there was any animosity between us. Once I got out there I wanted to do the best I could and Jake wanted the same.
“I think we brought different attributes, too,” Studstill added. “I know when Jake was out there I was looking at things for him and he would do the same for me. My advantage was when I got on the field, people thought that I was going to be the runner and (the coaching staff) actually gave me the opportunity to pass when (the opposition) thought I was going to run it.”
Of course this year, both quarterbacks are very similar in makeup so the entire playbook will be at their disposal. Whoever moves the team and makes the best decisions is most likely going to be the guy who stays on the field the longest. And whether that continues to be one or both remains to be seen.
“I have no idea how the game is going to go,” Dawson mentioned. “It’s up to them to make the decisions more than it’s up to us. Whoever wants to take hold and run with it, I’m more than happy to let them do it.
“At the end of the day it’s going to be who can win with this group,” added Dawson. “Who can lead the group to victory? We’re going to see.”
Indeed, we will this Saturday. Stay tuned.
Clint Trickett, Paul Millard, Dana Holgorsen, Shannon Dawson, West Virginia Mountaineers, WVU football, Big 12 Conference
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