All things considered, it was a pretty good college debut for Ford Childress on Saturday.
The redshirt freshman completed 25-of-41 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns in West Virginia’s 41-7 victory over Georgia State at Milan Puskar Stadium, establishing a school record for most passing yards ever by a freshman.
In fact, Childress’ 359 yards passing performance was the 19th-best in school history, a yard shy of current AD Oliver Luck’s 360-yard passing effort against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in 1981.
It is clear Childress has the arm strength to make up for the indecision that comes with being such a young player. It’s also clear that he can make all of the throws to cover the entire field.
But what’s not so clear to us – but is becoming quite clear to those around him – is how well he handles himself on the field during stressful situations.
“I look for some different things than what you guys (media) look for,” said coach Dana Holgorsen after Saturday’s game. “I mean, the completion percentage, yards and all that stuff I really don’t pay that much attention to. I thought his body language was good. I thought he handled the huddle pretty good. Coming to the sidelines he was communicative, whether it’s O-line, running backs or receivers, me, (offensive coordinator) Shannon (Dawson), I thought he did a good job of just being in the game.”
What pleased Holgorsen the most was the poise Childress displayed for such a young player.
“It doesn’t matter how I talk to him. If I’m being nice to him or if I’m being mean to him or whatever it is, he doesn’t let emotion get in the middle of that and I saw that last week on the sidelines (at Oklahoma) when things were tight and it was a high-pressure situation,” said Holgorsen. “He was the one that I saw being poised and being calm.”
Sure, Georgia State is not Oklahoma, nor is it next week’s opponent Maryland, which improved to 3-0 under Randy Edsall with a tough 32-21 victory at UConn last night. There were throws Childress got away with against the Panthers that he will likely not be able to get away with next weekend in Baltimore. He will also need to process the things he sees a little more quickly as the season moves forward, but the foundation has now been established.
There is film to go over and the things the coaches were telling him in practice now have real meaning to him.
“I thought overall it went pretty well,” Childress said following the game. “I had some balls that I want to take back, but I thought overall we played pretty well.”
In a span of about five minutes, Childress got his first collegiate touchdown pass and first interception out of the way. The touchdown was a lightning strike to freshman Daikiel Shorts in the back of the end zone that was more a product of his arm strength than it was his ability to make a quick read. It appeared Childress was a little late with his throw, but he had enough mustard on it to blow it past Georgia State’s late-reacting defensive secondary.
The pick was a result of pressure applied by the Panther defense, which Maryland is likely to duplicate this Saturday.
“I felt comfortable for the most part, but I was a little uncomfortable on that play I threw the pick when they were in zero coverage,” Childress admitted.
The last three or four days have certainly been a whirlwind for Childress, who began the season third on the depth chart behind juniors Paul Millard and Clint Trickett and then leapfrogged both after two exceptional practices last week.
The decision to go with Millard and Trickett ahead of Childress to begin the season was more a product of their experience than it was a lack of ability on Ford’s part. Prior to this week, Holgorsen admitted that Childress was in what he referred to as “redshirt mode.”
“His first year and a half he was in redshirt mode, which you just can’t snap your fingers and get out of that,” the coach explained. “When we said you sit back and watch I think he sat back and watched and in his mind he was like, ‘Dang, I could be playing right now.’ He sat on the sidelines and he said ‘I can do that’ or ‘I would have done this’ and I think that’s what he did and he convinced himself that it was kind of his time to play.”
“Last year when I redshirted I knew I wasn’t going to play, but this year at first when I got my reps cut Shannon was like, ‘You’re going to play this year. You can’t goof off and you’ve got to stay focused,’” Childress said. “I knew that I was going to play, so I acted like I was still the starter.”
Now that he is the starter with a full week to prepare for a quality opponent coming up this Saturday, Childress plans to do the same things he did last week to become the starter.
“I’m still going to work just like I did when I was the backup, but I think I will be more comfortable, I guess,” he said.
In Ford Childress, Holgorsen sees a young guy with a lot of talent that a young and talented football team can now grow around.
“He’ll keep getting better and better,” said Holgorsen. “I liked his mentality more than anything. That gives me a starting point. We all know he’s got some talent and he’s big and all that, but I need the mentality to be good and I really liked his mentality.”
So do Mountaineer fans.
Ford Childress, West Virginia University Mountaineers, WVU, Dana Holgorsen
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