West Virginia's offense finally showed signs of life on Saturday, helping the plucky Mountaineers upset No. 11 Oklahoma State, 30-21, in Morgantown.
Florida State transfer Clint Trickett got the start at quarterback after Ford Childress, the previous starter, suffered an injury in Week 4. And unlike his predecessor, Trickett was able to get some things going against a strong (ish) Oklahoma State defense.
He also showed some heroic resolve, fighting through a shoulder injury—a la Matt Stafford in 2009—and making some huge late-game plays, as noted by CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman:
Rick Trickett's kid making clutch throws on 3rd downs wincing in pain with his arm dangling... Not surprised.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) September 28, 2013
Trickett's success was surprising, but it begs an interesting question: Why did it take so long for him to see the field?
West Virginia's offense reached profound, ugly, dizzying lows against Maryland last weekend, finishing the game with 62 passing yards and zero points.
It was a sloppy, ugly, rainy game in Baltimore, so if not for sample size, it would be easy to cast off that performance as a fluke. But in conjunction with WVU's offensive stink-fest against Oklahoma in Week 2, it looked much more like a trend.
Childress struggled most to move the chains, coming up small on third downs and forcing his defense to come back onto the field after quick possessions. That's the cardinal sin a quarterback can commit.
But on Saturday, Trickett, while far from spectacular, was able to make things happen and keep drives going. The Mountaineers had 21 first downs to the Cowboys' 18, converting on a respectable (enough) eight of 22 third downs.
They had just six first downs against Maryland last week...total.
It's easy, on the surface, to see why Childress got the nod over Trickett. The latter is jarringly thin—honestly, he looks like an awkward teenager—and doesn't have the arm strength to consistently stretch the field.
But Trickett proved himself to be a better football player on Saturday, seeing things in OSU's defense that Childress (based on his prior sample) never could have seen. He displayed impressive footwork, extending a couple of plays in the backfield, and made some savvy throws when his team most needed it.
Will West Virginia Make a Bowl Game in 2013?
The biggest improvement a football team can make isn't the leap from competent quarterback to elite quarterback—it's the leap from an incompetent quarterback to a competent one. That's what Trickett provides, and it's enough to justify (tempered) hopes for the Mountaineers season.
Make no mistake about it: Saturday's performance was a far cry from the days of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. But with a rebuilt (and genuinely good) defense, it didn't need to be.
It just needed to be good enough.