What West Virginia quarterback Paul Millard
accomplished in his first career road start at 16th-ranked Oklahoma is pretty much on par with what most of the other recent WVU quarterbacks were able to accomplish in their first career road starts playing in similar venues.
Millard completed 21-of-41 passes for 218 yards with one interception in Saturday’s 16-7 loss to the Sooners, leading the Mountaineers to just one scoring drive and misfiring on two other really good scoring opportunities.
Clearly, Oklahoma’s objective was to try and get after West Virginia’s inexperienced quarterback as much as possible.
“We felt like we wanted to put pressure on the quarterback, make the quarterback work throughout the course of the game and not let him sit back there and go deep on us,” said Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. “We tried to keep him off balance, and we did a pretty good job of that throughout the course of the night.”
Millard’s lone interception came midway through the third quarter when the Mountaineers were in Oklahoma territory. The junior was trying to hit Daikiel Shorts
over the middle near the Sooner 30, but he didn’t loft his pass high enough and Oklahoma linebacker Gabe Lynn was able to pick it off at the 37.
There were other passes that Millard could have completed, and there were also several times his teammates could have made plays for him too, as his coach Dana Holgorsen pointed out after the game.
“He put the ball there for some guys to make some plays and we didn’t,” said Holgorsen. “So we have to take all of those things into consideration and evaluate it and see where we are at.”
Where Millard is at is pretty much where other inexperienced WVU quarterbacks were at similar points in their careers.
In 2009, senior Jarrett Brown completed 18-of-32 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown with four interceptions in his first career road start at Auburn, a 41-30 Tiger victory.
Sophomore Rasheed Marshall made his first career road start at Camp Randall Stadium in Wisconsin in 2002 against the 25th-ranked Badgers and he finished the game completing just 17-of-36 passes for 219 yards in a 17-point defeat.
Chad Johnston’s first career road start came at the Meadowlands in Piscataway, N.J., in 1994 against fourth-ranked Nebraska and he had a miserable afternoon going up against the best defense in college football. Johnston completed just 2 of his 6 pass attempts for 19 yards with one interception in a 30-0 shutout loss to the eventual national champions.
Major Harris’ first career road start at Ohio State in 1987 was even worse. The redshirt freshman completed only 2-of-10 passes for 17 yards with two interceptions in West Virginia’s 24-3 loss to the fifth-ranked Buckeyes.
It can be tough for first-time starters in less hostile environments, too.
Marc Bulger lost his first career road start at Boston College in 1997 when the Eagles stormed back to defeat the Mountaineers, 31-24. Bulger threw mostly low-risk passes that afternoon, completing 17-of-28 for 218 yards and two touchdowns with one INT.
Brad Lewis also lost his first road start 34-17 at BC in 1999. Lewis, filling in for an injured Bulger, completed 21-of-33 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns.
Pat White and Jake Kelchner won their first career road starts, but both players benefited from more favorable circumstances.
White’s first career road start came at rebuilding Cincinnati in 2005 where the 15th-ranked Mountaineers rolled to an easy 38-0 victory. West Virginia had a powerful running game with Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt in the backfield that year, and White was already beginning to establish himself as an outstanding quarterback after his great relief performance at home against Louisville.
White completed 7-of-12 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown, and he also ran for 111 yards against the overmatched Bearcats on a Wednesday night in Cincinnati.
Kelchner’s first road start at WVU came in the Backyard Brawl at Pitt in 1992, but the Panthers were awful that season and the Mountaineers rolled to an easy 44-6 victory. The Notre Dame transfer only attempted 12 passes, completing nine, for 168 yards with two touchdowns while also running for another score.
And then there was sophomore Geno Smith’s first career road start at Marshall in 2010. Smith was facing the coach who helped recruit him to WVU (former Mountaineer assistant Doc Holliday) and he was going up against a heated in-state rival in their small-but-hostile venue.
However, Smith had already been in some tight situations before as Brown’s backup, playing the entire second half of West Virginia’s Gator Bowl loss to Florida State during his true freshman season.
Smith’s experience playing in the Gator Bowl undoubtedly helped him against the Herd as he coolly led the Mountaineers to a 24-21 victory in overtime by completing a key late touchdown pass to Will Johnson and then hitting Jock Sanders for the game tying two-point conversion.
Smith finished the game completing 32-of-45 passes for 316 yards and a touchdown.
Last Saturday, Millard had several chances to march his team down the field to score the go-ahead touchdown. It didn’t happen, but now it’s important that he takes the valuable experiences he gained from last Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma and use them to his advantage in the future.
“We just didn’t get enough plays, the throws I missed and the things we missed out there,” a disappointed Millard said afterward. “This (loss) is hard because I felt like we left a lot of stuff out there that we had, so it’s going to be hard to swallow, but we’ll be back and ready to go (Sunday).”
He will, just like his predecessors did before him.