WVU football: Childress carries Mountaineers to 41-7 win
MORGANTOWN, W.V. -- For much of Saturday's game, the eventual offensive dominance would have seemed unlikely. Yet at the end of West Virginia's 41-7 win against Georgia State, the Mountaineers had more than 600 yards with a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and a receiver with multiple touchdown catches.
Along the way, the Mountaineers probably found their quarterback, too, in redshirt freshman Ford Childress.
"If it's not, then I'm not very smart," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We just gave him 100 percent of the reps."
Childress completed 25 of 41 passes for 359 yards and three touchdowns in his collegiate debut. Perhaps more significantly, neither Paul Millard nor Clint Trickett played in the blowout witnessed by 57,440 at Mountaineer Field. Both had been ahead of Childress on the depth chart before Saturday.
Holgorsen announced Thursday that Childress would start and the Houston native led the offense to scores on three straight possessions to pull away in the second half.
He hadn't taken any meaningful practice reps before the first two games, never mind play in those.
"Obviously I was mad," he said. "I wanted to start. I kept practicing hard and all that and I finally got my start."
Holgorsen praised Childress for his poise and his presence in the pocket when confronted with pressure more than he admired the throws and the statistics. The only complaint was that Childress couldn't set and sustain the pace Holgorsen wanted and eventually complained to his starter about in the third quarter.
Childress' absence had in part been explained by saying he wasn't as familiar with the hand signals from the sideline as he needed to be. He said the communication is something that has to improve, but that there are problems built into catching his coach's signals when Holgorsen tries to get "cute."
"He tries to hide them and stuff and he's got little, small fingers, so it gets kind of confusing," Childress said.
There was some clarity on a day when Holgorsen anointed new starters at three receiver positions and was looking for players to take control of certain roles and positions.
Freshman Daikiel Shorts caught five passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns and junior college transfer Ronald Carswell added three receptions for 67 yards and had a 43-yard catch to keep up his big-play pattern.
Sophomore K.J. Myers, who lost his starting spot this week to junior college transfer Kevin White, had six receptions for 64 yards, all of that in the second half after White was benched when he dropped a sure touchdown pass. Ivan McCartney, who lost his starting spot to Carswell, caught two passes for 66 yards and scored once. It was his first touchdown since a win against Bowling Green in 2011.
For balance, running back Charles Sims had 116 yards rushing and a touchdown on 18 carries and Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood combined for 122 yards on 20 carries. Smith scored on a 10-yard run on fourth-and-1 with 17 seconds left in the game.
Yet a handful of the incomplete passes to count against Childress were dropped passes and Childress was sacked three times, including once on a fourth down that seemed significant at the time.
"It was a frustrating game overall offensively, in my opinion," offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Shannon Dawson said. "For some reason or another, we spit and sputter and drop balls or let a guy come through a gap untouched. Statistically, we ended up putting some things together to win the game. I guess that's a positive."
WVU (2-1) finished with 604 yards of offense and allowed only 220 -- 84 passing and 136 rushing with 65 of those coming on one play. The Mountaineers played without linebackers Doug Rigg (concussion) and Isaiah Bruce (leg) and safety K.J. Dillon (leg). Backup defensive tackle Christian Brown left the game in the first half and did not return.
Through a bunch of mixing and matching on defense, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski had nine tackles, one sack, one tackle for a loss and one forced fumble that set up a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Georgia State receiver Albert Wilson, who leads all active Football Bowl Subdivision players in career yards per catch and is No. 4 in career receiving yards per game, didn't catch a pass. Georgia State (0-3) only completed eight passes.
"There were so many moving parts that it made it kind of difficult for me calling it," defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. "I wanted to be aggressive, but I didn't know if we could execute it. I was probably a little too conservative in the first half. I probably should have forced the issue more."
The Panthers, playing their fourth season of football and first in the FBS, made it interesting in the third quarter of their fourth game ever against a FBS opponent. It looked as though the Mountaineers would take a 24-0 lead, but White dropped what should have been a 32-yard touchdown pass and Sims was penalized 15 yards for a chop block.
Childress picked up 22 yards on third down to get the ball to the Georgia State 25-yard line, but on fourth-and-3, WVU opted against a 42-yard field goal attempt. Linebacker Jarrell Robinson came untouched through the line of scrimmage and sacked Childress for a loss of 10 yards.
On the next play, Panthers running back Travis Evans scored on a 65-yard run, the longest touchdown run in school history, to make it 17-7.
"Our history is not very long," Panthers Coach Trent Miles said.
WVU ended up punting, but Georgia State, which plays at No. 1 Alabama Oct. 5, decided to throw three times and two incomplete passes preceded a punt. Childress completed four straight passes and the ball made it to the Georgia State 11, but the Mountaineers settled for a 23-yard field goal.
The Panthers would punt again and Childress connected twice with Myers for first downs before a 32-yard touchdown run by Sims. He was the deep back in a three-back set that had the other two backs right of the quarterback. The run went left and fullback Cody Clay blocked a defender to the ground to spring Sims and give the Mountaineers a 27-7 lead.
Kwiatkoski then jarred running back Jonathan Jean-Bart, who dropped the ball at his 33. WVU's Karl Joseph recovered and Childress connected with Shorts for a second touchdown on a corner route three plays later.
"I thought in the second half we started playing with a little energy," Holgorsen said. "That had been our focus all week -- getting guys playing out there that are positive with their body language and have positive energy. I thought we improved on that, but we've still got a long way to go."
The Mountaineers led 17-0 at halftime thanks to some promising moments by Childress. A Mario Alford drop on third down abbreviated the first drive, but Alford's 24-yard run on first down was what facilitated Josh Lambert's 43-yard field goal.
Childress then completed 6 of 7 passes for 80 yards on the next drive and the Mountaineers needed 11 plays to cover 93 yards. It ended after 4 minutes, 12 seconds with a 21-yard pass to Shorts in a pocket in the end zone.
"He runs great routes and he runs hard through them," Childress said. "He knows how to find the open spot."
WVU had one scoring drive use more plays and no drive cover more yards or time in the first two games. The 10-0 lead was also the largest margin of the season.
It was the first career touchdown catch for Shorts, who had seven receptions for 63 yards against William & Mary, but was shut out against Oklahoma and lost his starting spot to Alford. The play also doubled WVU's touchdown catch tally from the first two games.
"It was good to see someone make a play -- a single play," Dawson said.
Childress made a mistake on his next drive, first failing to throw deep enough to lead Carswell on a 43-yard gain that could have been a touchdown, and then never looking off Alford on a third-down pass against a blitz. Georgia State cornerback Brent McClendon stepped in front of the short throw for an interception.
The Panthers had to punt and Lambert missed short from 53 yards out on WVU's next possession, but the Mountaineers struck quickly the next time they got the ball. Dreamius Smith ran through the right side for 15 yards and Childress connected with McCartney for 45 yards and an easy touchdown.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.