Reflecting on one of the more polarizing Mountaineers in recent memory.
Quick, name the 5 best quarterbacks in the history of the program. At the top of most lists will be Pat White, most likely followed by some combination of Jeff Hostetler, Marc Bulger, Major Harris, Geno Smith, and Oliver Luck. There would probably be some mention of Chad Johnston and Rasheed Marshall, and some older folks who might be partial to Dan Kendra. I’d be willing to bet that most people would forget to mention Skyler Howard.
And on first glance that doesn’t seem unreasonable. After all, Mountaineer fans have spent 2 seasons defining our team’s ceiling by Skyler’s shortcomings.
“We’ll go as far as he takes us,” we said.
Getting rid of the ball too soon, holding on to it too long, bad overthrows, bad underthrows, scrambling when he should’ve passed, passing when he should’ve scrambled, ill-timed turnovers. Skyler is guilty of it all, and to be fair, many of those things have been at the root of our problems over the past 2 years. However, I’m worried that some people have gotten so hung up on the things Skyler can’t do that they’re not fully appreciating all of the things that he can. Let’s take a minute to remember some of the good times.
First, the performances. People always remember the stinkers, but Skyler has had a bunch of performances over the past few years that were memorable for good reasons. The coming-out party against Iowa State. That 45-6 shellacking of Maryland. His lone career 100 yard rushing game against Kansas. The Kansas State, TCU, and Iowa State games this year. And of course, the record-setting performance in the Cactus Bowl.
Next, those moon balls. Sure he missed one here or there, but by and large those “hold my beer” deep balls where he just lets it rip have been my favorite thing about the Skyler Howard era. Cases-in-point would be the 71-yarder to Shelton and the 48-yarder to Simms that he threw last week. Those were two of the sexiest passes I’ve ever seen, but really it’s been a trend ever since he took over. His 39 passes of 20+ yards were good for 42nd nationally last year, and the 49 that he already has this year have him ranked 15th. The explosiveness of our passing game has been a crucial part of the offense over the past 2 years, and Skyler has obviously been a huge part of that.
Third, and Shorts. Just two underappreciated seniors repeatedly putting the team on their backs, especially in 3rd down situations. 18 times Skyler completed passes to Daikiel on 3rd down (21st nationally), and 18 times those completions went for 1st downs (15th). Their connection has been an underrated aspect of our success this year, and it’s an underrated part of discussions regarding the future (who fills that void next year?).
Fourth, that dual-threatability. I think we’re all aware of Skyler’s running ability, but I’m not certain that we fully appreciate just how effective he’s been as a two-way threat, and we certainly don’t think of him as one of the top such quarterbacks in the country. But he is. Skyler was one of 6 guys to throw for 3000+ yards and run for 500+ yards last year (Boykin, Watson, Marquise Williams, Dak, and Swag Kelly were the other 5), and he’s one of about 10 or 15 guys who are in range to do so again this year. He’s no Pat White, but he more than gets the job done on the ground.
Finally, the intangibles. Attitude. Toughness. Grit. Skyler attacks life with a massive chip on his shoulder born of being overlooked for pretty much everything, and has said multiple times that he wakes up every day feeling like he has to prove somebody wrong. Sure this gets us into trouble every now and then when he tries too hard to make something happen, but it’s also the single biggest reason that he is who he is. It’s what motivates him to watch film for hours and push out that last sprint up Law School Hill. It’s what has enabled him to gain over 8,000 yards of total offense in just over 2 seasons, and it’s what has him just 899 yards off our single-season school record with 2 games to play. He has been the embodiment of our team identity this year, and I’m going to miss that fearlessness.
“We’ll go as far as he takes us,” we said.
So far this year that’s a 9-2 record and a top 15 ranking with chances for a 10th and possibly even an 11th win still to come. Only 3 other guys in school history have accomplished that.
The point here is, there are definitely guys out there who can throw it better or run faster, but there aren’t very many that I’d rather have as our quarterback. Against all odds, Skyler Howard turned out to be a pretty damn good football player and a great Mountaineer. Let’s make sure we let him know that this Saturday.