By Dave Ackermann (The Orchestrater)
While it is never gratifying to end the season with a Bowl loss, overall, 10 wins is a great season. Ten wins is a rarity in Mountaineer Football laurels (and 11 wins even more rare) and neither has been done but a few times in the 125 years of the program.
So before I move into the Basketball season, like everybody else, let’s review the 2016 Mountaineer Football Season realistically (something some of the sports media world and beyond find rather difficult).
First, WVU DID NOT beat only two teams with a winning record. This had been said over and over prior to their bowl match-up. The Mountaineers defeated BYU (9-4), Baylor (7-6), Kansas State (9-4) and Youngstown State (12-4 and runner-ups in the FCS national championship). My count is then 4 teams with winning records defeated by the Mountaineers.
The Mountaineers did not suffer a bad loss during the regular season losing only to nationally ranked teams (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State). In those losses, WVU had multiple turnovers which led to easy points inside the WVU red zone. (Oklahoma, 5 turnovers leading to 27 Sooner points, and, vs OSU 3 turnovers leading to 17 easy points for the Cowboys). These points off of turnovers amounted to the difference in the score in both defeats. It is very hard to win in the Big 12 conference if you have multiple turnovers.
If WVU did have a bad loss, it was to unranked Miami of Florida in their bowl game. Again turnovers led to Miami points and then the offense went 6 straight possessions without a first down (or 3 and outs as we call them). That will wear any defense out in a hurry. The result will almost always be a loss in that scenario as well. Lets not talk about the stupid penalties and dropped passes; its easier for some to blame it all on the quarterback. That explains the three losses, but let’s talk about the ten victories.
WVU 26 Missouri 11
Missouri had won the SEC East the year this series was scheduled, and won it again the following year. How were Mountaineers to know they would go 4-9 in 2016. WVU led 13-3 at the half and went on to outscore the Tigers 13-8 in the second half with the 8 coming very late in the contest. It was a physical game and QB Skyler Howard was reported banged-up after the game.
WVU 38 YSU 21
Skyler Howard threw 5 TD passes in this one and WR Shelton Gibson had a big day receiving. The Mountaineers were tied 14-14 at the half by the pesky Penguins, but outscored YSU 24-7 in the second half as they coasted to victory.
WVU 35 BYU 32
Skyler Howard would lead the Mountaineers to a 4 TD game in this one played on a neutral field (FedEx) in Landover, Maryland. The Mountaineers took a 35-19 lead into the fourth quarter and hung on as the Cougars scored twice to make it close. The WVU defense would intercept BYU QB Hill three times including a pick six TD and a tipped interception in the WVU end zone to thwart the Cougar comeback.
WVU 17 Kansas State 16
After trailing 0-13 at the half, The Mountaineers would storm back to outscore the Wildcats 17-3 in the second half to seal Dana Holgorsen’s first victory over coach Bill Snyder and K-State in Big 12 play. Skyler Howard would lead the Mountaineers on a late TD drive to pull out the victory.
WVU 48 Texas Tech 17
The WVU offense set season goals of averaging 40 points per game and got it done in Lubbock, TX. Skyler Howard would rush for 2 TD’s and pass fro another while RB Rushel Shell would rush for 114 yards and two touchdowns. The defense held the high scoring Raider offense to just 17 points and none in the second quarter.
WVU 34 TCU 10
WVU would led 21-10 at the half and shutout the Horned Frogs in the 2nd half 13-0. The Mountaineer defense held a Big 12 proficient and high scoring offense down for the second straight week. Skyler Howard would throw four TD passes in the blow-out win. After losing 10-40 last season to TCU, this Mountaineer win was very revengeful; In their first three meetings in Big 12 play, the games were all “nailbiters” (two ending in OT).
WVU 48 Kansas 21
Skyler Howard ran for 2 TD’s and passed for 3 scores as the Mountaineers rolled up 605 yards of offense and surpassed the 40 point margin for the second time this season. The loss was the 40th consecutive road loss for the hard luck Jayhawks. WR Shelton Gibson would get 102 yards receiving and two TD’s for the Mountaineers.
WVU 49 Iowa State 19
The Mountaineers made scoring 40 plus points a third time a charm against the Cyclones. Skyler Howard threw for 330 yards and five touchdowns while RB Martell Petteway burned his redshirt in style rushing for 181 yards. The Mountaineers led at halftime by only 21-16 but would outscore ISU by 28-3 in the second half to roll to their 9th win on the season.
WVU 24 Baylor 21
After Trailing 14-3 late in the second quarter, the Mountaineers rallied to pull within 4 at the half (10-14) then came out in the second half and outscored the Bears 14-7 to get the 10th victory of the season and first 10 win season in a decade. WVU quarterback Skyler Howard did just enough to lead the Mountaineers to victory, bolstered by a second 200 plus yard rushing performance (204 yards) by Justin Crawford, (Crawford had 331 rushing yards versus Oklahoma in a losing cause earlier in the season). Crawford would reach 1,168.yards rushing for the 2016 season. It was Senior Day highlighted by the largest ovation by the WVU home crowd for QB Skylar Howard as he met his Mom Deidre Howard at midfield during pre-game activities.
In summary, as you can see above, WVU quarterback Skyler Howard played a huge role in every one of the ten victories, and, as some would point out, a large part in every one of the three losses. In this writer’s opinion, no WVU quarterback has meant more to his team than did Skyler Howard in 2016. He was the team leader, (along with center Tyler Orlosky). Howard was as fierce a competitor that ever donned a Mountaineer uniform; gritty, gutsy and a true gunslinger when it came to the long ball. Nobody rushed with more courage or strived to get every yard for his team. In short, Skylar Howard was a true Mountaineer and deserves much respect as a graduating senior.
Florida Transfer QB Will Grier
Looking to the future, there will be a new gunslinger in Morgantown next season as QB Will Grier gains his eligibility to play. The Florida Gator transfer will no doubt be under huge pressure to excel next season. Many Letterman return on both sides of the ball in 2017. A defense that replaced nine starters this season, will get one or two back from season ending injuries next season and should be even stronger. The offense returns good linemen and strong rushers, not to mention a talented receiving corps.
The recruiting wars are about to end for the 2017 class and just beginning for the 2018 class. The WVU fan base will be excited and itching for signing day news on Feb. 1st, 2017. Many expect the Mountaineers to be a pre-season Top 25 ranked team in 2017 and this writer agrees with those expectations.
Late story addition……..
….I was very sad to hear that Coach Ron Crook would be leaving the staff to become the O-Line coach at the University of Cincinnati next season. I have met a few coaches in my time here on earth, and none is finer or knows his business and teaching skills more than Coach Crook. He will be missed by many and we all wish him the best.