Are the Pieces in Place for West Virginia QB Clint Trickett?

Second-year starter finally healthy, grasping Holgorsen's Air Raid

Clint Trickett is a new quarterback, his West Virginia teammates say.

The redshirt senior doesn’t necessarily agree. Instead, he says they’re just seeing someone who is finally of sound mind and body.

Just as Trickett ascended to the starting quarterback job last season after his transfer from Florida State, he sustained a shoulder injury in his first start of the season.

That start, a 30-21 win over a ranked Oklahoma State team, was memorable, but the injury ensured West Virginia would never see a complete picture of Trickett. West Virginia won the game thanks to two late scoring drives by Trickett, but he also completed only 24-of-50 passes and threw two interceptions.

He left the game with a lead and a shoulder injury.

As the season went on, Trickett learned how to run West Virginia’s up-tempo Air Raid, but the lingering shoulder injury meant his arm couldn’t catch up to his knowledge of the offense.

“The only healthy guy these guys saw last year was a guy who had no clue what he was doing in the offense,” Trickett said. “Now they see a guy who is healthy and has a good understanding of what’s going on.”

If West Virginia is going to be more competitive in the Big 12 than it has been the last two seasons, the Mountaineers need Trickett’s shoulder and knowledge of the offense to close the gap.

West Virginia challenged Alabama in a 33-23 loss in the opener in Atlanta, and the Mountaineers will get another barometer of where they stand against Maryland in College Park on Saturday.

West Virginia moved the ball consistently against Alabama for three quarters as Trickett finished 29-of-45 for 356 yards with a touchdown. Was the game the product of lapses by the Alabama defense? The Crimson Tide had trouble communicating on defense with linebacker Trey DePriest out, and a spring injury to starter Eddie Jackson left Alabama exposed at cornerback.

Or is the West Virginia offense ready to bounce back after a forgettable 2013?

“We left some plays out there on the field,” Trickett said. “The outsider view of it was these guys showed they could compete, but we kind of knew that. We had a sense that we have something going right here. We were able to prove that we can compete with those guys. Now we have to be able to show we can beat those guys. That’s the next challenge.”

Beating a team like Alabama may be a long way off. Avenging a 31-0 loss to Maryland from last season, though, might be more attainable thanks to the improvement by Trickett.

“He continued to learn what we wanted to do,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He’s communicating well and understands what to do with the ball. He’s running the offense the way we want him to run the offense.”

Squeezed out of the Florida State quarterback position by eventual Heisman winner Jameis Winston and Jacob Coker, Trickett transferred to West Virginia, where his father was formerly the offensive line coach, before the 2013 season.

Trickett graduated from Florida State in three years and took a redshirt, making him eligible immediately at West Virginia for two seasons. Now a fifth-year senior, Trickett realizes that sitting out a year would have had its benefits.

“It’s tough pick up an offense just in the summer,” Trickett said. “It’s damn near impossible.”

A year ago, Trickett had trouble getting signals from the sideline, forcing coach Dana Holgorsen to call in plays verbally or calling timeouts on mixups. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson has praised Trickett’s mental makeup, but also referred to working with the new quarterback as “programming.”

Spread offenses have become very common at the high school and college levels, but Trickett spent the last three years in the pro-style attack under Jimbo Fisher in Tallahassee.

Trickett said he didn’t understand the “whys” of the offense early on. By the time he started to figure it out, his balky shoulder wasn’t his only issue. He was knocked out of the Texas game Nov. 9 after a possible head injury. He missed the Kansas game a week later before returning for the season-ending loss to Iowa State.

The spring was a chance to reset everything. He had surgery to repair his shoulder in January. The recovery kept him out of spring, allowing him to catch up mentally.

“The spring I was able to find out why (Holgorsen) wanted certain things, certain plays and certain looks, why he wanted to push tempo,” Trickett said. “It kind of got down to why, and that’s a very big part of it.  You can understand what he wants, but then (understanding) the why is when you get the whole grasp of it.”

The offense, though, has been more than just Trickett through two games. Wide receiver Kevin White, who had a disappointing season after his transfer from junior college, is already more than halfway to his catch total from 2013.

A solidified offensive line may help Trickett achieve one of his other directives from Holgorsen: Stay healthy. Trickett has proven willing to take contact. Offensive line protection or not, the quarterback needs to keep himself from suffering another injury that may derail his and West Virginia’s season.

“He has to make sure he doesn’t put his body in harm’s way,” Holgorsen said. “He’s got to continue to get the ball out of his hands and to the skill guys around him. That’s part of what his job is.”

Perhaps by the end of the season, part of Trickett’s job will be to help West Virginia achieve its first winning record in Big 12 play. The Mountaineers are 6-12 in the league, first due to a struggling defense in 2012 and then to an offense that sputtered almost all season in 2013.

“It’s his first opportunity and his last opportunity in the same breath,” Holgorsen said. “He didn’t get in until game (five) last year and got hurt in the same game he started in. His sense of urgency has been big.”

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