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WVU Football: Five “Must Improve” Areas On Offense - Quarterback Play

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As fall camp opens, the Mountaineers look to overcome the program’s worst season since 2001. Improved quarterback play is vital to a successful season.

Last season was really rough for Clint Trickett.
Last season was really rough for Clint Trickett.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

This is the second in a series of five articles that discuss WVU's offense.  This article is devoted to quarterback play.

2013 Quarterback Play:  Woeful Production

By any measurement, last season's quarterback production was below average for both Dana Holgorsen and WVU.  College football fans are used to seeing Holgorsen coached quarterbacks such as Cody Hodges, Graham Harrell, Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden and Geno Smith put up nationally leading passing numbers.  Last year, Holgorsen started three quarterbacks over the course of the season that played like back-ups to the above list of talented quarterbacks.

Here are last season's woeful production numbers.

2013 Quarterback Production

Quarterback

Attempts

Completions

Comp %

Yards

TDs

INTs

3rd Down Comp %

Rating

Trickett

233

123

53

1605

7

7

45

114.6

Millard

167

92

55

1119

6

6

61

116.0

Childress

63

36

57

421

3

3

47

119.5

Totals

464

251

54

3145

16

16

50

115.5

Cause and Effect

Low completion percentages, particularly on third down, and missed opportunities in the red zone primarily drove last season's deplorable quarterback play.

WVU's offense really struggled to sustain drives due to third down completion rates, as WVU quarterbacks completed only half of their third down attempts - 63 of 125.  Of the 63 completions, only 40 led to first downs.  In other words, when WVU passed on third down last season, the offense continued drives only 32% of the time.

Trickett particularly struggled on third and greater than four yards to gain, as he completed only 23 of 59 attempts for 39%.  Only 16 of those completions resulted in first downs.  Trickett sustained drives only 27% of the time.

In their 2014 college football preview, Athlon Sports aptly wrote "Last season's WVU offense was the antithesis of a normal Dana Holgorsen unit.  The recurring theme was "three-and-out," as the Mountaineers ranked 113th in third-down conversions."  Ouch.

In the red zone, WVU quarterbacks played equally as bad.  They combined to complete only 17 of 41 attempts for a dismal 41 percent with eight touchdowns and one interception.  Trickett completed only 10 of 25 attempts inside the red zone for 40%.  He did, however, throw five touchdowns with no interceptions. Millard threw only three touchdowns and one interception in the red zone.

Trickett, Millard and Childress also played like back-ups because they threw as many interceptions as touchdowns over the course of the season.

WVU Quarterback Play:  A History of Recent Success

For comparison purposes, here's how 2013 stacked up to the last thirteen years in Morgantown.

WVU's Passing Attack Since 2001

Year

Starting Quarterback

Attempts

Completions

Comp %

Yards

TDs

INTs

3rd Down Comp %

Rating

W-L

2013

Multiple

464

251

54

3145

16

16

50

115.5

4-8

2012

Smith

532

374

70

4285

44

7

61

162.6

7-6

2011

Smith

542

353

65

4509

32

9

63

151.2

10-3

2010

Smith

382

245

64

2769

24

8

59

141.6

9-4

2009

Brown

347

220

63

2484

12

10

67

129.2

9-4

2008

White

305

202

66

1956

22

8

57

138.7

9-4

2007

White

265

176

66

2067

16

6

59

147.3

11-2

2006

White

233

149

64

2059

15

8

n/a

152.6

11-2

2005

White/Bednarik

193

122

63

1398

12

7

n/a

137.3

11-1

2004

Marshall

259

149

58

1993

20

11

n/a

139.2

8-4

2003

Marshall

252

129

51

2034

19

8

n/a

137.5

8-5

2002

Marshall

279

148

53

1753

11

9

n/a

112.4

9-4

2001

Lewis

357

192

54

1811

9

19

n/a

94.1

3-8

WVU has been fortunate to have had talented quarterbacks such as Geno Smith, Pat White, Rasheed Marshall and Jarrett Brown over this time span.  Quarterback production has been worse than the 2013 season on only two occasions - 2001 and 2002.

It's no coincidence that WVU football sustained highly successful seasons over this period.  When WVU's quarterbacks completed 60% of their passes (58% in 2004), WVU possessed a winning record nine consecutive seasons.  When WVU's quarterbacks completed only around 50% of their passes, then WVU possessed a winning record only two out of four times (2002 and 2003).

The Pass Happy Big 12:  Haves and Have Nots

Compared to the rest of the Big 12, here's how poorly WVU's quarterbacks struggled last season.

2013 Big 12 Conference Quarterback Production (conference rank in parentheses)

Team

Att

Comp

Comp %

Yards

TDs

INTs

3rd Down Comp %

Rating

W-L

Baylor

448

277

62 (3)

4668

35 (1)

6 (1)

56 (3)

172.5 (1)

11-2

Kansas State

314

197

63 (1)

2469

18 (6)

9 (2)

57 (2)

155.7 (2)

8-5

Texas Tech

714

453

63 (1)

5107

35 (1)

18 (10)

58 (1)

134.7 (3)

8-5

Oklahoma State

484

280

58 (5)

3603

26 (3)

13 (5)

47 (8)

132.7 (4)

10-3

Oklahoma

383

225

59 (4)

2588

24 (4)

11 (3)

52 (5)

130.5 (5)

11-2

Texas

431

246

57 (6)

2762

18 (6)

15 (7)

53 (4)

117.7 (6)

8-5

Iowa State

415

232

56 (8)

2630

19 (5)

14 (6)

45 (9)

117.5 (7)

3-9

WVU

464

251

54 (9)

3145

16 (8)

16 (8)

50 (6)

115.5 (8)

4-8

TCU

419

240

57 (6)

2715

14 (9)

17 (9)

49 (7)

114.6 (9)

4-8

Kansas

329

154

47 (10)

1685

9 (10)

12 (4)

44 (10)

91.6 (10)

3-9

WVU ranked near the bottom in third down completion percentage (6th), touchdowns (8th), interceptions (8th), quarterback rating (8th), and completion percentage (9th).

Quarterback play definitely factored into the win-loss record of each conference team.  Of the five teams that had a 130 or higher quarterback rating, all five had winning records.  Of the five teams that had lower than a 120 quarterback rating, only one possessed a winning record (Texas).

Six of eight teams that completed greater than 55% of their passes had winning records (TCU and Iowa State did not).  WVU and Kansas completed less than 55% of their pass attempts...and both finished the season with losing records.

All five teams completed greater than 50% of their passes on third down.  All five teams possessed winning records.  Only one of five teams, Oklahoma State, finished the season with more wins than losses after completing less than 50% of their passes on third down.

Diagnosis

In 2013, WVU's quarterbacks struggled primarily for at least five reasons.

First, all three quarterbacks lacked starting experience for WVU.  That's what happens when an NFL caliber player like Geno Smith runs the offense for three years.

Clint Trickett had limited starting experience at Florida State before transferring to WVU.  As a redshirt freshman in 2011, Trickett took over the Seminole offense for two games after EJ Manuel injured his shoulder.  Trickett's first start was a successful outing against Clemson (no doubt), where he went 24 for 38, 336 yards, 3 TDs and only 1 INT.  However, Trickett was quickly pulled after his start at Wake Forest went poorly (6 of 11, 29 yards, 2 INTs).  EJ Manuel replaced Trickett in that Wake Forest game. Trickett never started the rest of his Florida State career.

Second, the offense lacked experience - particularly at the skill positions.  WVU only returned two starters from 2012.  Both were linemen.  All skill position players, with the exception of Ivan McCartney, had never started for WVU.  Houston transfer and now NFL running back Charles Sims could not be a one man show.  Meanwhile, junior college transfers Dreamius Smith, Mario Alford and Kevin White saw their first FBS action.

Third, the offensive line, combined with an inexperienced backfield, failed to protect WVU's quarterbacks.  The offense allowed 28 sacks.  Millard, Trickett and Childress often lacked the time needed to find open receivers.

Fourth, accuracy issues plagued the Mountaineer quarterbacks.  Part of the accuracy issue certainly resulted from injuries to both Trickett and Childress.  However, all three quarterbacks were wildly inaccurate - particularly Trickett, who overthrew receivers by five plus yards even when he was healthy. As mentioned earlier, Trickett only connected on 36% of his attempts when faced with third down and four or more yards to gain.  Millard was the only quarterback to throw for over 50% on third down.  He threw for 61%.

Finally, coaching most likely affected quarterback play.  Holgorsen made a terrible decision to pull Millard (and insert Childress) as the starting quarterback after the Oklahoma game.  That decision had to have rattled all three quarterbacks' confidence - and the team's confidence in their quarterbacks.  Holgorsen's mistimed decision began a carousel of revolving starters.  It most likely left the perception that whoever started had to be "Geno-esqe" - or be pulled the next game.  All three quarterbacks began looking over their shoulder - not only for opposing defenders - but for Holgorsen himself.

Prognosis

This season, both Trickett and Millard possess starting experience in Dana Holgorsen's offense.  They are both seniors.  Holgorsen named Trickett the starter in late June.  This decision may bolster both Trickett's confidence and the teams' confidence in him.  Trickett certainly needs the reps as he missed spring ball.  True freshman William Crest will most likely redshirt.  Logan Moore and junior college transfer Skyler Howard could see limited playing time.  The offense will depend upon Trickett and Millard to lead the way.

At Big 12 Media Days in Dallas, Holgorsen made the case that Trickett "has far greater knowledge of the system" this year.  Holgorsen further went on to say that Trickett has now "built the communication needed with his receivers."

Lots of improvements have to happen.  The offense must better protect the quarterback.  Trickett certainly has potential.  Remember his game against Clemson.  With additional time to stay in the pocket, Trickett's accuracy and completion percentages potentially could go up.

Both Trickett and Millard must overcome their accuracy issues.  Remember, Millard threw for 61% on third down.  It will be interesting to see how long Holgorsen stays with Trickett as the starter if he continues to struggle.  Holgorsen could also choose to go to a platoon system - much like coach Bill Snyder used at Kansas State last season - where Millard plays on select third downs if Trickett's accuracy fails to progress.

WVU's offense returns six starters and plenty more experience as the Mountaineers begin their third Big 12 campaign.  This experience needs to translate into greater offensive production.

If most of these things happen, then the Mountaineer's prospects for a winning record greatly improve.

Tomorrow's article discusses offensive efficiency.

As always,

Let's Go, Mountaineers!

Series Links:

1.       Offensive Line Play

2.       Quarterback Play

3.       Efficiency

4.       Red Zone Efficiency

5.       Turnovers

*Information/stats for this article come from the following sources:  wvusports.com, cfbstats.com, ncaa.com, WVUStats.com, philsteele.com, espn.go.com, Phil Steele's 2014 College Football Preview, Lindy's Sports College Football 2014 Preview, Athlon Sports College Football 2014 National Edition, and USA Today Sports 2014 College Football Preview.