Who Will be the Guy Under Center?
So, who is going to be the starting quarterback this year? That’s a question West Virginia football fans are likely going to be asking all summer long.
The Mountaineers used three different quarterbacks this spring – Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and Logan Moore – and they will have two more quarterbacks coming available in the fall when Clint Trickett is cleared following offseason shoulder surgery and touted freshman William Crest arrives this summer.
Trickett played in eight games last year, completing slightly better than 50 percent of his pass attempts for 1,605 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Florida State transfer’s best game against Oklahoma State was also the worst for his long-term health. He injured his shoulder during the nine-point victory and was never the same throwing the football, eventually forcing him to elect surgery.
Millard had his moments last year, too, nearly leading West Virginia to an upset victory over Texas on Nov. 9 at Milan Puskar Stadium. He entered the game in the second quarter when Trickett had to leave and went on to complete 16 of 32 passes for a career-high 259 yards and a touchdown in the overtime defeat.
However, Millard’s next two starts were disappointing losses to Kansas and Iowa State to end the regular season.
Crest is the high school quarterback West Virginia had been targeting for a couple of years and was the No. 1 guy on the Mountaineers’ recruiting board when he signed last February.
“We’ve spent a lot of time with William and we’re excited about him joining our program,” Holgorsen said back in February. “We feel very good about William as the future of this program; whenever that begins is going to be up to him.”
As for the present, the experienced Millard had the best stats in last Saturday’s spring game, completing 14 of 19 passes for 129 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but Moore was equally successful moving the ball. The former Fairmont State transfer completed 10 passes for 109 yards and also ran three times for 35 yards, including a scrimmage best 28-yard scramble.
Moore’s late spring development and spring game performance have now put him on the radar.
Howard, too, had his moments this spring and he finished the spring game completing 9 of 13 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. The Fort Worth, Texas resident was a mid-semester enrollee last January who caught offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson’s eye after he evaluated 25 different junior college quarterbacks.
Probably the single most encouraging aspect of last Saturday’s spring game performance was a clean, 95-play scrimmage from an offense that did not include a single turnover.
Last year, turnovers were a huge issue for West Virginia. Mountaineer quarterbacks threw 16 interceptions and were also responsible for several of the 16 fumbles the offense committed last season.
Ball security from the quarterbacks was a big point of emphasis this spring, so much so that Holgorsen even decided to lift the protective jerseys off his quarterbacks and allow them to be hit during the final six practices of the spring.
“They weren’t making the progress that we wanted and then about six practices ago we go, ‘yeah, let’s let them get hit’ and their sense of urgency picked up,” said Holgorsen. “It was also good for our defense to see that. How many teams do we face that are going to run their quarterbacks a bunch? Their production picked up, and I was pleased with how they performed over the last six practices.”
Holgorsen said his time leading up to fall camp is going to be spent evaluating almost 850 cut-ups from the spring and monitoring the progress the quarterbacks are making during the summer development season. According to the coach, his staff is now permitted to meet with the players and watch tape with them in the summer.
“We don’t want to be around them so much to when August rolls around they are sick and tired of us,” he said. “The last two weeks in May we will be out recruiting so we won’t be around them much then. When we get back here in June we’re going to be able to have team meetings.”
Holgorsen said it is going to be important for his offensive staff to come up with a good plan for the quarterback position when camp begins.
“We’re going to have to narrow it down,” he said. “We are going to have to figure out who that guy is and we’re going to have to give him all of the reps.”
Last year, injuries, a lack of production and some other extenuating circumstances forced Holgorsen to rotate starting quarterbacks, at one point going with three different guys during a 14-day stretch from Sept. 7 at Oklahoma to Sept. 28 when the Mountaineers upset 11th-ranked Oklahoma State.
“I’ve never done that before and we all agree it’s not the answer,” he said.
Still, chances are pretty good that more than one quarterback might be needed to get through a season the way teams are utilizing quarterbacks these days. And having a couple of quarterbacks on your roster with game experience is clearly beneficial.
“If you look at it, the one thing across the country is that we weren’t the only team in that situation,” said Holgorsen. “Everybody in the Big 12 was playing a couple of different quarterbacks because of a variety of reasons.
“I think the game is changing where those quarterbacks are running a lot more. They’re more athletic, which means they’re in harm’s way more,” noted Holgorsen. “If you want to win a championship and you want to have a successful season and go to a great bowl game, the playoff, or whatever it is, then you’re second team quarterback has got to be able to go in there and win some games.”
Of course, Holgorsen’s No. 1 objective is finding a No. 1 guy under center with Alabama looming on Aug 30 in Atlanta.
“There will be time in August to make these decisions,” he said. “We get 28 practices, so 20 of them are going to be non-Alabama prep to where we practice and we need to get better. Guys need to step up, make plays and take control of that position.”
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