A four game losing streak could really tear apart a team, but not the Mountaineers. It seems that it has brought them closer together with the determination to get back on track. Head Coach Dana Holgorsen met with the seniors a couple weeks ago and set up some goals and they are on their way to reaching them.
Jared Barber wanted to keep the meeting between the seniors and coach. He believes the seniors need to be the leaders. “It is all up to our seniors. When it comes down to it, that’s who younger guys listen to. Coaches coach, but at the end of the day, it’s the senior’s team…and it falls on us.”
After the wins over Tech and Texas, the Mountaineers are determined to continue to do what works. In their case, the run game has been crucial to the offense; something Howard did not think would be the case when he came to West Virginia known for their air raid, but he does not seem to mind.
“I haven’t, but you know with a win like that I will take it any day, I will take it if we do not throw the ball at all and I have zero rushing yards. I will take the “W” over anything,” Skyler Howard said when asked if he has been in many games where he only threw the ball 12 times.
“…When you can run the ball like that we will be a team that is hard to beat. Playing physical, those backs are running like animals. I am proud of them. Proud of all of them as a unit. It’s the work they put in and they are so hungry they want the extra yards and they are not gonna go down easy — it’s a testament to them.”
Junior Wendell Smallwood has made a name for himself as the main running back, and in the last two games he has had over 100 yards each. He contributes his success to the offensive line. “Just seeing everything right, hitting holes, breaking tackles and the line is blocking so good. I think they are blocking great so I think that’s been the key and getting better every week being very physical,” he said.
Smallwood added, “I am comfortable with just having the ball and the line the way they are blocking, I hope we keep doing it.”
Despite his career high games, Smallwood has had trouble finding the end zone. When asked about how frustrating it was, fans may be surprised by his answer. “I need to find the end zone more, but as long as we get the win, I don’t care.”
“I mean it is frustrating, but as long as you are winning the games and the other guys are scoring, I don’t mind it at all.”
Howard, Barber, and Smallwood throughout their interviews consistently talked about their teammates and the team’s success rather than what they did during the game. It goes to prove that there is no “I” in team.
When Skyler was asked about his 53 yard connection to Jovon Durante for the touchdown he gave him the credit. “It’s been a little bit since we have had that connection, since early in the year. I put the ball in the air and he made a great catch…”
During the match up against Texas, Skyler took some hits during his runs as he fought hard for yards. “It goes back to the only stat that matters is the win. So I am going to do whatever it takes. You don’t wanna put your body on the line too much as the starting quarterback, but I want to win and I will do what it takes.”
The Mountaineer and Longhorn match up meant a lot to Howard and Barber, but for different reasons. Jared Barber wanted redemption after tearing his ACL against Texas in 2013. When asked about his defensive touchdown on Saturday he said, “Yeah, I didn’t think I was going to do it. I saw a shadow coming up behind me pretty fast, but it was good for me personally… but it was obviously better for the team to get the offense going and get points on the board. When the offense sees points on the board it gives them confidence as well. So that’s what it is about.”
For Barber, his personal redemption was sweet, but the team’s win was sweeter. “I thought once we won or when I played them it would be more about me and getting redemption, but once the game was winding down it was more about we got the win and they beat us the last two years. It was more about that than anything that happened to me. So I’m just blessed we got the win. It was a great team win, we need it to keep going.”
Barber also mentioned the success of his teammates was more exciting for him than his touchdown. “I was more excited when we got the kickoff strip and Justin Arndt got on the fumble than me when I scored. I want be on the field as much as possible, but any time we get a turnover and the ball gets back to the offense it is a win for us.”
On the other hand, Skyler Howard was going to play against the team he grew up loving since he is from Fort Worth, Texas. He thought it may be difficult for him, but he quickly found out it was just another game. “I am extremely proud of our guys, extremely proud of the way we came out and fought for four quarters and to do it against a team like that — it’s great.”
The Mountaineers will continue to fight for a good bowl chance against their remaining Big 12 opponents Kansas, Iowa State and Kansas State. Starting with Kansas on Saturday, November 21 at noon.