MORGANTOWN, W.Va. Skyler Howard basically popped up out of nowhere last season when the Mountaineers starting quarterback Clint Trickett went down with season-ending concussion issues just two games shy of the regular season finale.
With experience in only one Big 12 football game at the time, where he attempted just two passes -both of which were incomplete- Howard was thrown into the whirlwind of DI football with almost no preparation.
So what did he do? He took the bull by the horns. And yes, that is a reference to Howard’s hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.
Howard stepped up to the plate with relentless confidence as seen when he threw up the ‘money sign’, made famous by former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, after tossing a 45-yard touchdown to Mario Alford in the Liberty Bowl. Or maybe even when he took a helmet to helmet hit by A&M’s Tommy Sanders and got straight back up, walked over to the Aggie defense, smacked his helmet and mouthed them off.
It was only Howard’s second start under center. Who’s that confident in only their second start? Apparently Skyler Howard.
Before the new season starts, let’s take a look back at Howard’s time in the old gold and blue so far. Given Howard only saw playing time in four games, his stat line may look a bit shabby. However, there are a few signs of promise given the road he’s taken to get to this point.
Exit, Clint Trickett. Enter, Skyler Howard.
When Trickett left the Kansas St. game injured, Holgersen had a tough decision to make. Choosing between William Crest, who was then a true freshman, and Skyler Howard, a new signee originally out of Riverside Comm. College, to take over the reins was quite an easy decision, though, as Crest was already in the works for redshirting to add another year to his eligibility.
Though the game was tight in the fourth quarter, a blistering cold night in Morgantown added an extra element of difficulty for Howard’s ‘debut’, per say. Howard went 15-23, completing 65.2 percent of his passes including a 52-yard dinger. He tossed two touchdowns and threw no interceptions while racking up 198 yards, which opened some previously doubtful eyes. Either way, the Mountaineers still took an L.
After a decent debut, the Mountaineers faced the less-difficult Iowa St. the following week. Under Howard’s leadership, West Virginia won the game 37-24. Howard went 21-40 for 285 yards, tossed three touchdowns and zero interceptions, and rushed for 69 yards. Howard paraded the Mountaineers to a much needed win following a three-loss stretch, which was not the way West Virginia was expected to end conference play.
Now, he was on to something.
Next came the real challenge. Mountaineer Nation was about to get their first ‘real’ look at Skyler Howard as the starting quarterback in the Liberty Bowl where the Mountaineers faced Texas A&M.
To some shock, Howard blazed through the first half with 195 yards and two touchdowns. The Mountaineers went to the locker room trailing by one point. As mentioned earlier, his actions and attitude throughout the game brought most of the attention as to what Howard was actually capable of.
Howard’s ability to learn so quickly and adjust to a starting role allowed the Mountaineers offense to progress, but the overall outcome was disappointing. West Virginia was defeated 45-37. Howard finished the game with over 340 yards, completing 20 of 45 passes for three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran 10 times for 33 yards.
Question marks obviously still loom as to whether Howard is capable of leading a team in one of the toughest football conferences to success, but it’s something he’s now prepared to do.
Howard kept the Mountaineers afloat at the end of the season and, perhaps, got more experience out of his short four-game stretch than he possibly could have if things had gone differently. Though the Liberty Bowl was far from perfect, it allowed Howard the learning experience he needed to truly become a DI starting QB.
“I compete everyday against myself. No matter who the competition is, no matter what’s going on each practice, no matter what happened last play, last practice, last season, last bowl game, it doesn’t matter now. Every day forward, taking my left foot and putting it in front of that,” Howard said following the Mountaineers spring practice in Shepherdstown, WV earlier this year.
“Now that I’ve learned the offense, I’m really able to focus as a quarterback, you know, I’m not learning the offense anymore and I’m able to focus on mechanics and making checks and other things like that,” he added.
In the Gold-Blue Spring Game, Howard completed 9 of 22 passes for 121 yards. The next time he steps onto Mountaineer Field for a game, it’ll be September 5th to face the Georgia Southern Eagles. It’ll be Howard’s third start for West Virginia and expectations are high.
“Like I said, I’m able now to actually work on being the quarterback and do some different things. I’ve got some chemistry with the guys now and that helps a lot. It’s still a work in progress but it’s getting better each practice.”