Ford Childress, in his first career start, completed 25 of 41 passes to set a school freshman record with 359 yards and three scores as the Mountaineers defeated a game Georgia State team 41-7 at home on Saturday. The 6-5, 223-pounder threaded passes down the middle. He rifled the deep ball, albeit mostly to wide open receivers. He managed the game – but wasn't solely a game manager, displaying the size, strength and skillset unmatched by his benched counterparts.
"Pretty good for his first game in college football," WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "I thought his body language was good and he handled everything well. He was communicating well. I thought he did a good job of just being in the game. That's what we look for; if you have a guy like that, he can bring a lot of other guys along."
Sometimes even kicking and screaming. Much like the Mountaineers overall, Childress did suffer through a series of physical and mental mistakes that would best deem the overall performance as mediocre. After completing six of his first eight passes, including a 21-yard strike to Daikiel Shorts for a 10-0 lead with 4:11 left in the first quarter, Childress began to carry more of the load behind an increasingly sputtering running game. On their final drive of the first quarter, and the first of the second, the Mountaineers rushed three times for a combined five yards in 10 plays. Childress was sacked on another play, and then threw behind receiver Mario Alford at the Georgia State 22-yard line for his first career interception with 11:06 to play before the break.
"There were mistakes," said Childress. "That should have been a better ball."
It was perhaps the most glaring error by Childress, and served notice that this wouldn't be the 50-point cakewalk many pundits expected. But it certainly wasn't the only mistake made by an offense that couldn't adequately open consistent running lanes and was forced to piecemeal – and almost sleepwalk – into finding its way.
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"I am still not happy with our tempo," Holgorsen said. "I got on (Childress) about that. A lot of that is me, but he needs to help get guys lined up and ready to go. We still have a long way to go with tempo."
And some other aspects. It was then, after Lambert's missed kick left WVU with 10 points in its first five offensive series, that one got the suspicion the Mountaineers (2-1) would be unable to muster sustained drives that ended in touchdowns, even against a team that came in allowing an average of more than 400 yards and 36 points of offense to the likes of Stamford and UT-Chattanooga.
Thank goodness for superior talent and the big play. Ivan McCartney got behind the GSU defense on a double move on the second play of the sixth series, Childress lofting him a gorgeous rainbow along the sidelines that went for a 45-yard score. With that, West Virginia took a 17-0 lead into the half. The Mountaineers continued to flail a bit during the third quarter, then caught the effort bug in the fourth, gaining 174 yards and scoring three times to – finally – put the game out of reach.
"When we started the second half, I thought we played with a lot of energy," Holgorsen said. "We have been focused all week on that, getting guys playing that are positive with their body language."
West Virginia (2-1) did finish with 604 total yards, and had amassed 430 by the end of the third quarter while managing the ho-hum 20-7 lead. But not until running back Charles Sims busted a 32-yard scoring run early in the fourth and Childress tacked on his third passing touchdown of the game with 11:42 remaining did the 57,404 in attendance begin to relax to John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" blaring over the public address system. Dreamius Smith added a 10-yard scoring run to cap the scoring.
"I thought our kids battled defensively for the most part," GSU head coach Trent Miles said. "There were a few pays where we got out of our responsibilities. We gave up at least one touchdown that way."
Still, Georgia State (0-3) hung around far too long, getting a school-record 65-yard touchdown run from back Travis Evans for its lone score. The Panthers managed 220 total yards, and were outrushed 245-136. Quarterback Ronnie Bell completed five of 13 passes for 63 yards, and was sacked three times. Evans ran for 118 yards, while wideout Robert Davis, who came in leading the FBS in career yards per catch average at 19.4, has three catches for 39 yards. GSU has now lost 13 of its last 14 games and been outscored 155-27 in three games against BCS-level foes.
Shorts had two touchdowns catches, while KJ Myers led all players with 64 receiving yards. Sims rushed 18 times for 116 yards and the late score. Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski had nine tackles, eight solo, and recorded a forced fumble and a sack in the finest performance of his career. WVU's defense was without starters Doug Rigg and KJ Dillon and sans backup defensive tackle Christian Brown for the second half.