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Skyler Howard Looks to Step Up for West Virginia

Big 12 quarterbacks are getting a lot of attention this as we near the start of the season, rightfully so.

Baylor, Texas Tech, and both Oklahoma and Kansas schools find themselves with a new starter at the position or at least coming off a late-season stretch. All of those quarterbacks have grabbed headlines (Seth Russell and Mason Rudolph in particular), but the quarterback situation in Morgantown has flown under the radar with junior Skyler Howard.

Rudolph stepped in for Daxx Garman last season for Oklahoma State, and impressed enough to make the Cowboys contenders in the conference. The same goes for Pat Mahomes looking to revive Texas Tech who stepped in for Davis Webb in the home stretch of the season. Howard is in a similar situation after stepping in for Clint Trickett who went down with a concussion late in the season — having two and a half games under his belt.

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Kansas State at West Virginia

Howard could emerge as one of the top QBs in the Big 12, which is loaded at that position.

As great a passing team the Mountaineers seem — ranking ninth in passing yards — it wasn’t at the hands of Trickett who threw an interception to every two touchdowns. How well the Mountaineers operate was tied to Trickett’s ability, throwing 6 interceptions to 4 touchdowns in losses compared to only 4 interceptions and 14 scores in wins.

In Howard’s limited showcase he threw for 8 touchdowns with his only turnover being a late-game fumble. That’s a good sample of his efficiency, but having All-American receiver Kevin White and Mario Alford in his back pocket certainly helped him adjust to the starting job. But Trickett had the same receivers and couldn’t avoid defenses as Howard has exhibited.

Where Trickett has his predecessor beat though is his overall efficiency, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes to Howard’s 50 percent completion rate. Completing just half of his passes is cause for concern, considering the level of talent at wide receiver needing to be replaced. If he could not find White consistently, who’s to say he’ll find Daikiel Shorts among others? There’s already been reports that the offense struggling.

Looking back at Howard’s three games there’s a lot to be hopeful about. He has a very quick release, keeping the ball secure until the last moment. Above that, consider the velocity of his throws, he has a remarkable soft-touch to his deep balls. So what’s holding him back? His consistency to find his target accurately is an obvious conclusion, but his problem stems deeper than just errant passes.

Even in his best moments, he shows hesitation. In one instance against Kansas State, he was looking for a receiver in the end zone but decided to tuck and run for a 15-yard gain, setting them up for a touchdown the next play. It was a great decision, but had he made the decision sooner he could have taken it in himself. In the scope of the game (and even drive) it didn’t matter much, but place that in another situation and the implications could be greater. He looks anxious in the pocket, but that comes with the position he was thrust into.

Talking with the media this April, Howard says he feels like he’s in a better situation heading into the fall than he was last season, working on his mechanics and adjusting to his leading role. He already has mechanics, it’s just a matter of fine tuning them and having a better pocket presence. Last season Howard completed a league low 28 percent of passes on third down.

Being able to convert those drives will be critical to him leading the Mountaineers to success. With top targets out of the picture, the weight of their season is on his shoulders. He has the potential to make it work, all that has been in his way so far is his inexperience. But those last games of the season were invaluable for the junior quarterback. Watch out for Howard to be a dark horse quarterback in the Big 12 this season.

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