MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–With the West Virginia University fall camp underway, one of the things the Mountaineers are continuing to work on is their passing game.
Quarterback Skyler Howard passed for 3,145 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2015. But he threw 14 interceptions and surpassed 300 yards only two times.
The 6-foot, 207-pound senior completed just 58.4 percent of his passes last season.
The Cactus Bowl may have been a turning point for Howard with his record setting performance. In WVU’s 43-42 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils, he earned the Offensive MVP honors after throwing 532 yards for five touchdowns.
In a quarterback heavy conference, the Mountaineers will need Howard to be consistent if they hope to compete for a Big 12 Championship and a shot in the College Football Playoff.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen’s focus since spring is on just that.
“We have already done it, we did it a lot in the spring,” he said. “We have dang near the same bodies that we had in the spring. Young offensive linemen, which we probably aren’t going to count on very much. (Sophomore wide receiver) Jovon’s (Durante) back, he looks good. He is going to dabble in some inside receiver today. The tackles with (Assistant Coach) Coach Wickline, showed a lot of improvement in the spring. The rapport with Skyler and the receivers, it looks a lot better as well. Just continuing what we did in the spring. Just reps and reps and reps. All of those reps should turn out to be beneficial when we need them too.”
With Durante eligible and redshirt juniors Shelton Gibson and Ka’Raun White back, Howard has three speedy wideouts to connect with.
“This is collectively the fastest group I have had,” Holgorsen said. “That doesn’t mean they are the most productive or effective, or any good at all, but collectively they are probably, in a straight line, the fastest group I have had probably ever.”
Senior Daikiel Shorts and sophomore Gary Jennings add a physical presence to the receiving corps.
But this group of wide receivers isn’t Holgorsen’s most physical bunch and he believes becoming more physical is one thing that Gibson and White need to improve on.
“The likes of Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper. We could go back to Texas Tech with (Wes) Welker and (Michael) Crabtree, and (Danny) Amendola (were more physical),” Holgorsen said. “We had some tough ones, I’m not putting this group in that category yet. I like the physical nature of Daikiel. Gary has a physical nature to him. We have to get Shelton and Ka’Raun and these younger, twitchier guys to see if they can be physical at all.”
Howard knows just how important being physical can be. It can be a game changer.
“If you want to be a big time receiver, you have to be physical through bodies,” Howard added. “A lot of times if you run a route, you are being defended, and if those guys knock you off your route then it is no good, you have to be physical through routes. You have to be physical when you block. You have to be physical when people get up in your face and put their hands on you. This group has a chance, by no means am I going to put them in the categories that I just said.”
Another game changer for the Fort Worth, Texas native is having relationships and being able to communicate better with his receivers.
“Having that communication and having that relationship allows us to see things before it happens,” he said. “See changes in defenses when they roll, see the holes before they’re there and make the throw before they make the cut. That allows us to gain that advantage, and that’s something we always strive for, but it’s always a work in progress.”
Howard and the WVU receiving corps have shown moments of promise before. If they can put the timing, accuracy, speed, physicality together with the bond they have built with each other, the Mountaineers could be a fearsome bunch come Sept. 3 when the Missouri Tigers roll into town.
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS