WVU notebook: Back-up plan nearly works for Mountaineers
You generally have to win to write a storybook ending, and Skyler Howard barely ran out of ink.
West Virginia’s backup quarterback did, however, inject a shot of adrenaline into another languid offensive performance, rewarding those who stuck around Thursday night at chilly Milan Puskar Stadium by nearly pulling out an improbable victory.
With much of the season-low crowd of 47,683 having fled and the Mountaineers trailing No. 12 Kansas State, 20-3, with 9:23 left in the third quarter, Howard came in for starter Clint Trickett. A concussion was the stated reason, but few would have blamed WVU coach Dana Holgorsen for going to the bullpen regardless.
Trickett completed 12 of 25 passes for 112 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, continuing his slump after a brilliant first half of the season. He was sacked three times, and a botched handoff resulted in another turnover. The Mountaineers (6-5, 4-4 Big 12) lost their third straight 26-20. WVU managed three first-half points for the second successive game, creating another difficult comeback scenario.
Howard did what he could. A 6-foot-2, 200-pound sophomore whose work this season consisted of two incompletions, he displayed nimble feet and an accurate arm. In less than two quarters, Howard went 15 for 23 for 198 yards and two touchdowns and had three scrambles for 16 yards. He turned what appeared hopeless into a game that remained in doubt until K-State fielded an onside kick with less than a minute left.
Howard transferred to WVU after one season at Riverside City College, a junior college in California. He assumed the No. 2 role last month after a nagging shoulder injury sidelined freshman William Crest.
“The thing is, being a backup quarterback, you got to stay ready,” Howard said. “I go through the same practice as Clint (Trickett) does. I throw to the same guys. Just putting the ball in play and they do the rest. … There’s nerves but good nerves because I was prepared. I stay ready all season and wait for opportunity to rise, and I took advantage of it.”
“If you look through his career, junior college and everything, he’s typically been a gamer,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “He really did the same thing at the juco he was at. He wasn’t really the starter when he got there, and a couple games in, they threw him in and he ended up playing great.
“I think the kid competes. He definitely has a knack for competing and likes to compete. He’s a tough kid. I’m proud of him to go in there and do that.”
What do you really think?
Holgorsen was unsparing in his criticism of Nick O’Toole, whose 35-yard punt turned into Tyler Lockett’s 43-yard touchdown return in the second quarter.
“Horrible punt,” Holgorsen said. “Our whole team went right. (O’Toole) mishit it left. I could have scored. That’s not a coaching error. That’s a player error. We talk about it all the time. We send the team right, he needs to punt it right. He missed it. It went left. He wasn’t confused. He just missed it. It’s obviously a big play.”
And furthermore …
Other than Howard, a bright spot was WVU’s run defense. The Mountaineers slowed mobile quarterback Jake Waters (12 carries, 13 yards), holding K-State to a net 1 yard in 29 rushing attempts. … His troublesome ankle finally healed, WVU’s Rushel Shell ran 15 times for 60 yards, including a long run of 18 yards on which he leaped over a would-be tackler. He also took a screen pass for 13 yards. … K-State, the nation’s second-least penalized team with 32, got flagged 10 times for 132 yards.
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected]