2016 West Virginia Football Preview: Quarterbacks

1st of a 10-part series previewing West Virginia’s Football team ahead of the upcoming season.

The freshmen are on campus, Missouri is about 1440 hours away (but who’s counting?), and fall camp is right around the corner. That makes it high time to check in on how the West Virginia football team is shaping up ahead of the 2016-17 season.

In parts 1-9 of this series I’ll be looking at each of WVU’s position groups, starting with the QB’s and ending with the coaches, and grading them on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest. In the 10th part I’ll go through the schedule game by game and predict our record in a completely objective and unbiased way. Easy enough, right? Good. On to the quarterbacks..

The Incumbent

The keys to the West Virginia offense are once again in the hands of Skyler Howard. Our lives are in his hands. Shades of Walter Sobchak – “Nothing is fucked here, dude. Nothing is fucked.” Seriously, is it possible to be a journeyman before you’ve graduated college? Because that’s how I feel about Howard. He showed us enough last year to be cautiously optimistic, but he showed us enough last year to have the shields up. A microcosm of life as a Mountaineer fan.

The Good: Howard is a senior entering his third year in the program and his second as the starter. He knows the offense and Holgorsen trusts him to run the show. Intangibly, his teammates genuinely seem to like him and by all accounts he works hard and is a good kid.

Tangibly, Howard is sneakily athletic, and flashed the ability to get the ball to the right people in the right spots. When he did that and played within himself we were very tough to stop. The Arizona State (28-51, 532 yds, 5 tds) game in particular will probably give some fans hope that Skyler has maybe turned a corner, but I for one remain unconvinced.

The Bad (and the Ugly): The main problem is consistency. Like I just said, Howard only showed those abilities in flashes and unfortunately it seemed like his bad form reared it’s ugly head at the worst times. This will feel like nit-picking, but go back and watch that Arizona State game again and tell me that he shouldn’t have been closer to 700 yards with a few more touchdowns. Bad misses on throws to wide open guys. And that happened all year. Our receivers routinely smoked their 1 on 1 matchups and Skyler missed them with a little too much regularity. 

This is related to the consistency issues, but another area where Sky struggles are those 7 to 20 yard chain movers. He throws a nice home run ball (although sometimes he puts a bit too much air under it) and generally puts his quick hitters in the right spots, but he absolutely murdered a few drives by spiking those intermediate crosses and outs into the turf. Those are passes that you have to be able to complete to move the ball consistently, and last year he was very hit or miss. 55% completions is just not good enough when you only average 7.8 yards per attempt.

A final area of concern is his decision making. A lot of Skyler’s on-field identity is tied to the fact that he wasn’t recruited out of high school and has basically been the underdog for his entire career. He plays with a MASSIVE chip on his shoulder, which is both a blessing and a curse. The same chip that keeps him in the film room for hours on end also leads him to believe he can fit that 17-yard crossing route into a 2-foot window. And he just can’t. He’s not that guy. And that would be fine if he realized that and conducted himself accordingly. The problem is that too often he seems to try to do too much and ends up getting into trouble.

You don’t want to temper this mentality because it’s pretty much the only thing allowing him to compete at the D1 level, but we were just 2-5 last year when Sky attempted 30+ passes and 6-0 when he attempted less than that. Hopefully both he and the coaching staff recognize that and have learned from it.

The Depth

The main contender for playing time behind Howard will be redshirt freshman Chris Chugunov, who people seem to rave about. My question is, and this is definitely a bit harsh, but if he can’t beat out Skyler then how good can he really be? From what I’ve seen he throws a nice ball, but aside from that it’s really difficult to say how he’d handle himself if called into action.

The other option will be William Crest, an athletic redshirt sophomore who the jury is probably still out on. Crest looked like he was starting to grow into a utility role last year, but in limited playing time at QB he looked like he should probably stick to returning punts and catching passes.

The Future

The most exciting member of the group is Florida transfer Will Grier, who looked great as a freshman at Florida last year, leading the Gators to a 6-0 record before being suspended and subsequently transferring. NCAA transfer rules prohibit Grier from playing this year but all signs point to him being good to go for Virginia Tech next September, and based on what I saw last year he’s going to fit in perfectly.

Grier threw for just over 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns while also rushing for 116 yards and a pair of scores. The most important number on his resume though (besides 6-0, of course) is the 66% completion percentage. That’s a good 11 points higher than we got from Howard. Earlier I said that 30 passes was the magic number for us last year; just imagine if we could’ve completed 3 more passes per game.. depending on which passes they were a few of our games might’ve looked a little differently, right? Oklahoma State and Kansas State immediately come to mind. And as for those crucial intermediate passes?

You have to think Shelton and the boys will be chomping at the bit.

Position Grade – 3.5/5

There are basically two ways to think about our QB situation: you can be optimistic and hope that another year in the program will bring another level of maturity to Skyler’s game, or you can be terrified that one of our more talented rosters in recent memory is once again being led by a guy who had to walk-on at Stephen F. Austin.

See The Incumbent section above; it’s concerning that The Bad and Ugly section is so much longer than The Good section, right? I spent most of last year feeling like we were a good quarterback away from being at least a 9-3 team (I mean really, what was the difference between us and TCU besides Trevone Boykin?), and frankly I’m worried that it could be what holds us back again.

The thing is, I want Skyler to be the guy. I want him to succeed, and not just because him being successful more than likely means our team will be good (although obviously that’s a plus). I want him to succeed because he’s basically Rudy, and things like that don’t usually happen in real life. I want him to succeed because this his last chance to play competitive football, and people who have worked as hard as he has deserve a happy ending. And I want him to succeed because he genuinely seems like a good person, and I like when good things happen to good people.

I have no idea what will actually happen this year, but I do know that last year’s hoping for the best, expecting the worst roller-coaster ride was exhausting, and if the chicanery continues this year the fans will turn on him quickly. It may be unfair, but that’s life. Here’s to more consistency then, for all our sakes.

 

Check back later this week for our Running Backs preview.

 

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