West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen likely saw the 2016 season flash before his eyes before halftime of WVU’s first game.
Quarterback Skyler Howard injured his ribs in the second quarter of Saturday’s home opener against Missouri. He was able to walk off the field, but initial reports suggested that it was unknown whether or not he’d return to the second half, which could have been a game-changing loss for the Mountaineers.
#WVU QB Skyler Howard was in the trainers room at halftime. Team didn't know if he would play in second half.
— Keenan Cummings (@rivalskeenan) September 3, 2016
Howard did come back, but the results weren’t overly positive. It was reported that he was limited in the second half and the injury was obviously impacting his play. Here’s what Mitch Sherman of ESPN wrote at the time:
“Good for WVU that its running game and defense are clicking today. Because QB Skyler Howard, dealing with a rib injury, per the TV broadcast, is not himself since returning to start third quarter,” Sherman explained. “Howard looks to have lost some control on his throws and is clearly experiencing some pain. He’s 3 for 7 with an interception in the second half.”
WVU ended up beating Mizzou, 26-11, and Howard finished 23-of-35 for 253 yards and the aforementioned interception. It certainly wasn’t his best game, and it was only the second time he’s failed to throw a touchdown in his career.
Who could blame him?
He was pulled late in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach and the fans in their cars. After the game, Holgorsen made it seem as if his quarterback really had to tough it out.
Dana Holgorsen says Howard's injury was to his ribs and said it was tough for him to play through but he did even w being limited #WVU
— Matt Welch (@MattWelch_PGH) September 3, 2016
Holgorsen on Skyler: He got shot in the ribs. He's sore. He played through it. No one ever questions his toughness. The kid is a competitor.
— Geoff Coyle (@GFCoyle) September 3, 2016
So where does WVU go from here? Does Howard heal up in a week? Likely not.
Though he was able to play in the second half, rib injuries tend to be lingering — and much worse the next day. He’ll likely at the very least be limited in practice this week, and if WVU was smart, it would hold him out even if he says he’s good to go.
This is an important year for WVU and especially Holgorsen, who’s on the hot seat in Morgantown after a handful of mediocre seasons and a hot 10-3 debut in 2011.
He needs to prove to the WVU faithful that he can get the Mountaineers over the hump and into Big 12 contender territory, and having Howard healthy and ready to go will be a big part of that.
Keep in mind, it’s not as if the play behind Howard was good against Mizzou…
#WVU QBs not named Skyler Howard: 3 plays, 2 turnovers (1 fumble, 1 INT)
— Ryan Decker (@NowOnDeck) September 3, 2016
Heading into what should be a relatively easy Week 2 matchup against Youngstown state, WVU should consider giving Howard the week off to try to fully heal. The Mountaineers have bigger fish to fry, with BYU coming up after the Penguins.
Even if Holgorsen doesn’t actually sit Howard, he should still strongly consider playing it safe with him. Rely on the run game to beat Youngstown State. WVU needs every impact player to be ready to go come Week 3.
The most important of those players, at least in terms of WVU’s long-term goals this season, is Howard.
He’ll probably want to suit up in Week 2, but in the long run, it’s best for WVU to play it safe with its starting quarterback.