“The only time I’m gonna play two is if the one picked just really goes out there and completely messes up, then obviously we will pull him,” WVU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson said. “But when I think of playing two quarterbacks and rotating them? Nah, that’s never going to happen. I will never do that as long as I coach.”
With that, Dawson nutshelled that there will be a surefire starter next fall while also mothballing the idea of equal time between Ford Childress and Paul Millard – and whoever else might be in competition. The ideal is echoed across the country each fall, with very few coaches choosing to allow a platoon system. It’s essentially been the same for most of WVU’s history, with perhaps the most well-known example of QB platooning coming in 1993, when Jake Kelchner and Darren Studstill shared snaps. Both players, with vastly differing styles and skillsets, had key moments in helping the Mountaineers to an 11-0 regular season. Kelchner managed a waterlogged, week two win at Maryland with an ultra-efficient 15 of 19 performance for 270 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and was later excellent in several blowout victories.
Studstill, despite throwing just four times, had the lone WVU scoring pass in the 36-34 win over No. 17 Louisville. Kelcher responded with another sharp game in the 17-14 home win versus No. 4 Miami. Then Studstill, with Kelchner ailing from a hamstring injury, helped rally the Mountaineers from down 14-3 in the fourth quarter with a touchdown and two-point conversion pass in another 17-14 win, this at No. 11 Boston College to close the unbeaten campaign. That was, however, the high-water mark for the modern-era platoon system at West Virginia.
WVU did swap quarterbacks late in the 2000 regular season, with a beat-up Brad Lewis alternating with Scott McBrien. In 2001, under then-first-year WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez, Lewis and Rasheed Marshall alternated toward the end of the season after Marshall returned from a wrist injury suffered in the opener. And Adam Bednarik and Pat White split time for portions of the 2005 season before White’s breakout game in the 46-44 triple overtime win against Louisville. But in each of those latter three examples, it took an injury for the “second man up” quarterback to gain significant playing time. It seems counterintuitive, but it appears – at least in most coaching minds – that the mantra holds true: If you have two quarterbacks, you really don’t have any.
The reason is confidence-inspired rather than any true disparity in overall ability or skills. A coaching staff attempts to cultivate quarterback confidence, and have that player exude such on the field and in the minds of teammates. The task, already difficult with the youth and inexperience factor, becomes increasingly so when said player is continually threatened with being pulled, or with the knowledge that he will have to alternate a series or set of series’, breaking up any established rhythm. A hesitancy to take chances and tendency to avoid miscues becomes prevalent. The gunslinger mentality desired by this offense evaporates into the fear of failure smog – a kind of corollary to the paralysis by analysis school of thought.
Game management and execution becomes less about beating the opposing team and more about being just a touch better than a competing teammate – and that’s no way to win. Basketball players have long been hindered by this under certain coaches, the idea that not making a mistake is better than even the attempt to make a play because of the potential for failure. Better, according to Dawson and head coach Dana Holgorsen, to take the Bull Durham approach: Don’t think so much. It can only hurt the ball club.
“At times, I think they both overthink it,” Dawson said of Childress and Millard. “There’s nothing wrong with just executing the play. The worst thing you can do is overthink it. There are times we get out there, and they want to be Peyton Manning and sit there and call the offense from the line. That’s not what we are asking them to do. We are not asking them to do anything superhuman. At times, I think they take it upon themselves to overthink situations and things and get us in plays that don’t have a chance.”
Millard, who got the majority of the snaps in the Gold-Blue spring game, completed 16 of 27 passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked four times, but didn’t appear to force the ball or float it into coverage as much as Childress. The freshman went 14 of 21 with one score, one pick and a pair of sacks.
“They are trying,” Dawson said. “Both of those guys want to do good. It’s just coaching. I have to get them to where they understand that there at times we are going to allow you to check. But there are times, critical situations, where they have to trust us. They have to trust that we are putting them in a situation where we have the right play called and they need to execute the play. Understand the difference between critical situations and open field plays when we are running offense. Like the two-point play (to tie the Gold-Blue game on the last snap)? That’s a critical play. The play we called was not the play that was ran.”
Instead, Millard, who threaded a 24-yard pass to Jordan Thompson in the end zone to tie the score, audibled to Wendell Smallwood’s run off tackle that was stuffed. Game over. Such is the development of a starting signal caller.