As first starts go, Skyler Howard couldn’t have asked for much better. The question now is when will we see him again.
After giving West Virginia a spark and nearly leading a comeback Nov. 20 against Kansas State, the sophomore quarterback got the call in place of the concussed Clint Trickett Saturday at Iowa State and looked like a veteran.
The junior college transfer threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns, rushed for 69 yards on seven carries and, perhaps most importantly, never panicked after the Mountaineers fell behind 21-7 early. Even in a hole, Howard continued to make good decisions, took what he was given and avoided trying to do too much in leading WVU to a 37-24 victory.
“Skyler did a great job all week of preparing,” said head coach Dana Holgorsen, who knew all week Howard was going to be his starter but did his best to keep it a secret. “The guys around him did a great job of helping him in that role, and he did well.”
Howard’s biggest asset — especially playing behind a WVU offensive line that’s struggled in protection in recent weeks, and was playing some new bodies on Saturday — was his ability to use his feet, not just for designed runs but also in making something out of nothing.
“Skyler did a great job when the protection broke down of extending the play and keeping his eyes downfield,” said Holgorsen in his evaluation of his possible quarterback of the future. “He hit Daikiel (Shorts) off a scramble play (in the fourth quarter for a crucial score that put WVU ahead 34-24). The protection broke down and he just got out of there and made a play. That’s part of the advantage of having a versatile quarterback.”
Howard — who early in the season was relegated to third-string status behind freshman William Crest, who now has an injured shoulder — has now seen action in three games this season. He’s completed 36 of 65 passes for 483 yards and five touchdowns. He hasn’t thrown an interception and has only been sacked once.
Even with those numbers, though, Howard’s future remains hazy.
As the Mountaineers begin preparation for a bowl game — the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., against an SEC opponent, likely Arkansas or Tennessee, seems to be the most likely destination, though nothing has been made official — Holgorsen said there’s no question that Trickett is still the starter, providing he’s cleared to play.
“He’s still our starting quarterback, and Clint’s done a bunch of great things all season long,” the coach explained. “The quarterback spot is no different than any other spot. You have to have the next guy ready to go. But I anticipate that Clint will get cleared and be ready to go in the bowl game.”
Trickett, who transferred to WVU from Florida State prior to the 2013 season, has had an eventful senior season.
Through the first seven games, he was almost perfect, even drawing dark horse Heisman Trophy mention. He threw for more than 300 yards in each of those contests, leading WVU to a 5-2 start that included a win over No. 4 Baylor. During that stretch, he threw 15 touchdown passes compared to five interceptions and was on pace to shatter most of the school’s all-time passing records.
In his next four starts, though, Trickett failed to reach that 300-yard mark even once, and he tossed five interceptions, compared to just three touchdowns. WVU went 1-3 during that stretch, and Trickett left early in the second half of the 26-20 loss to Kansas State.
Holgorsen, though, still has faith in his senior, and he believes he’s earned the right to start if healthy.
If Howard doesn’t play in the bowl game, his next opportunity will be to earn the starting job for the 2015 season. But that’s expected to be a battle, too.
Crest, who appeared in only one game before the injury, is hoping to get a medical hardship waiver to give him four remaining seasons to play. Either way, the blue-chip prospect was considered the heir apparent for most of the season and is definitely expected to make a push to be the starter next season.
Howard did the job Saturday and undoubtedly produced a hit with his first release. The question now is will he be the next Chumbawamba, or are more hits ahead?
— E-mail: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH