Following a spring and fall in which Childress appeared to be trailing his competitors at the position, the Houston, Tex., native has now seized his chance to grab the starting quarterback role at West Virginia. What went on during WVU's fall practices that kept Childress a step or two behind Paul Millard and Clint Trickett, and what changed over the last two weeks, when he admittedly got few snaps, to this week, when he earned the starting nod from head coach Dana Holgorsen?
With few public appearances to judge, there was a great deal of reading of tea leaves and micro-parsing of statements coming out of Camp Mountaineer this fall. While some of the judgments carried the analysis to a silly extreme (including more than one column from some widely visible pundits), a more reasoned look at the situation showed one conclusion: the race was simply too close to call. That factor, which separated this battle from just about every other situation in which Dana Holgorsen had groomed a new quarterback to replace a graduated starter, was the key, and explains much of the current Mountaineer situation at the prime offensive position.
Way back in the spring, Holgorsen himself mentioned the fact that this situation would be different from his previous stops. In most of those replacment situations, one quarterback stood head and shoulders above the rest, and was the obvious candidate for the starting job in the fall. That meant one guy got the majority of snaps during every spring and fall practice, and certainly almost all of the reps with the first team. The result? While it was a new guy in the position, it was one that had gotten as much work as possible in preparing for the job.
For WVU this year, that wasn't the case at all. The competition was clearly still open, so much so that even freshman Chavas Rawlins got a brief look during the spring. Transfer Clint Trickett further muddied the waters (not that his arrival was a negative in any sense) but in that it further split the repetitions and practice opportunites for each competitor. Had Trickett been at WVU for spring practice, things might have turned out differently, but they also might have turned out exactly the same – and there's no way to predict otherwise.
Coming into the fall, then, it was clear that the race was still a tight one. Holgorsen and the assistants shed little light other than no note that the battle was ongoing, and that left two possible explanations: 1) One of the trio had grabbed the job, but to keep the others working and competing, no announcements were made, or 2) the race was still so close that a leader was yet to be identified. When the battle continued past a loosely-defined date that had been tentatively set for at least identifying the starter (at pleast privatley, if not publicly), it appeared as if choice number two was more reflective of the true situation.
A handful of open scrimmage series during a pair of weekend practices had seemed to point to Trickett as the starter, as he was out with the first team offense on both dates. That, of course, was immediately jumped on by observers as the definitive action, but those making that call didn't take into account Holgorsen's history with opening 11-on-11 work for viewing. Those that have been around for a while remember Holgrosen responding to complaints about lack of access by allowing the media to view one portion of such drills, and then running every play with Geno Smith under center. Whatever the motiviation, that history pointed to the conclusion that what was seen might not always be what was gotten – and, as it turns out, it wasn't.
When the season opened vs. William & Mary, Paul Millard was taking snaps with the first team, and other than a six-play sequence in the first half, it's been all his job. Millard has not been bad, but he also hasn't produced the sort of grab-the-bame-by-the-throat plays that are required from a quarterback in Holgorsen's system. West Virginia isn't Alabama, and a “game manager” QB (a label which often has negative connotations) isn't going to get the most out of the current WVU attack.
So, it's now Childress' turn. What has changed to give him a shot at the job? First, he has the strongest arm of the three. He's the most likely to it a deep ball. And, frankly, he hasn't had the chance to show what he can do in a game yet. While Trickett's stay was brief, and severely hampered by an offensive penalty and a dropped pass, he does have some Division 1 experience. How much that played into the current decision to give Childress a chance is hard to say, but most likely it's just a small part of it.
First, we have to take Holgorsen's word for it that Childress improved his play when competition was more widely reopened this week. That would certainly have to have included better and more quick decision-making, which was an issue during the spring game and reportedly over some of fall camp. Second, WVU's inability to make plays in the passing game, which is clearly galling to Holgorsen, is also a big factor. Even when the Mountaineers couldn't ring up consistent gains against Oklahoma, it still threw the ball much more than it ran it. Holgorsen's assessment that “plays were there to be made” can't be argued with.
Given the closeness of the competition this year, is it reasonable to assume that the redshirt freshman made a quantum leap over the past six days? Obviously, he showed improvement this week -- it's hard to imagine Holgorsen blindly grabbing at straws in the quarterback race. It's also reasonable to assume that he showed better decision-making this week. Odder things have happened -- over the years we've seen "the lights go on" for more than one player in midseason. And while West Virginia's coaches certainly don't root for one player over another, they too have to be hoping that this will be the last QB change they make this year.