If the Mountaineers really want to be competitive and relevant in the Big 12 in 2014 and beyond, the most significant aspect they’re going to need to address is cultivating much better and more consistent quarterback play heading forward.
Just ask West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.
“There is one key factor (for success). The quarterback has to perform well,” Dawson said after the open practice in Charleston Saturday.
That simply wasn’t the case in the 2013-14 season following the departure of Geno Smith, as West Virginia’s offense was downright anemic, which stemmed directly from the collective ineffectiveness of its stable of signal callers.
Together, Ford Childress, Clint Trickett and Paul Millard threw just 16 total touchdowns all of the 2013 season. Only TCU (14) and Kansas (9) had less, and they combined for a 3-15 conference record last season.
In fact, the 39 touchdowns through the air between those three teams in 2013 is still shy of what Smith accomplished by himself in 2012.
Smith, by the numbers, was easily the most prolific passing quarterback in the school’s history, so there’s no question the bar has been set incredibly high. But at the same time, neither Childress, Trickett or Millard were even in the same universe to the standard of production Smith set in WVU’s debut season in the conference in 2012. Will things be any different in 2014?
Well, they could be.
Trickett, who threw for team-highs of 123 completions, 1,605 yards and seven touchdowns, played the majority of last season with a torn labrum from the second conference game of the year. The redshirt senior quarterback had surgery in the offseason from which he is still recovering from, but should be ready to go by the season opener against Alabama at the end of August.
If Trickett’s health can translate into more production and consistency for the Mountaineers, it may be just the boost this team needs to compete a little closer with the up-tempo, high-powered offenses that make up the Big 12.
With Millard, there are fewer questions surrounding his health but more concerning his actual abilities. His accuracy and arm strength both left a lot to be desired last season, but his inherent familiarity with Dana Holgorsen’s offensive system may eventually help make up the difference. In fact, Millard is the only quarterback still on the roster since Holgorsen first arrived in 2011.
It’s also entirely possible Millard has made notable improvements of his own since 2013. It’s a different sport but just think about the strides Juwan Staten made in just a single offseason.
The potential wild card in this whole mix has to be junior college transfer quarterback Skyler Howard. Howard brings a different level of athleticism and even a slightly different skill set than either Trickett or Millard, but he’s still very raw and definitely appears to be quite unfamiliar with the Mountaineers’ offensive system.
It also remains to be seen just how effective a true mobile quarterback can be in an offensive scheme that seems to inherently require an accurate pocket passer.
Regardless of who ends up taking the majority of snaps for WVU in 2014, the primary key is the Mountaineers’ simply get more production from its quarterbacks.
You never want to discount the importance of special teams or continuing to improve defensively, which West Virginia has done, but if you can’t put points on the board, you’re not even going to have a fighting chance in such an offensive-minded conference.