MEMPHIS, Tenn. — His 346 yards passing certainly looked sufficient, as did those three touchdowns, which gives the kid eight scores and zero interceptions during his late-season stint as West Virginia’s quarterback.
Yet Skyler Howard’s first taste of bowl action was unsatisfying because of the open throws he didn’t complete and the opportunities West Virginia didn’t exploit against a Texas A&M defense that left open plenty of windows.
“I missed a few throws, and that slowed us down,” Howard said after completing 20-of-45 passes during a 45-37 loss in the Liberty Bowl.
He overshot Cody Clay on a sideline route and threw too high for Mario Alford on a curl. On another drive deep into Aggies territory, upon sailing a pass beyond Jordan Thompson on a slant pattern, Howard turned to the West Virginia sideline and planted both hands on his helmet in disbelief.
“I kept missing high for some reason,” he said. “That’s something I’ve got to work on.”
Howard wasn’t certain if antsy footwork or inconsistent throwing mechanics were at fault—”maybe a little of both,” he reasoned. Yet he was certain that a second-half stretch during which he went 2-of-15 was the turning point of the game. West Virginia had five possessions during that span and was outscored 17-3.
Howard’s incompletions weren’t all about his erratic arm, however; not when a perfectly accurate throw slipped through Alford’s hands in the back of the end zone. In the fourth quarter, even Kevin White dropped a sideline pass and fumbled away another while trying to drag tacklers in Texas A&M territory.
“I’d give Skyler a B,” said White, who caught seven passes for 129 yards and a touchdown. “The receivers didn’t make many plays. Too many dropped balls. I know I dropped a ball. There were just little things that separated us from getting the win.”
Though West Virginia piled up 472 yards, and averaged better than 6 yards per play for the sixth time this season, offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said the unit seemed “a little bit off.” Some of that was attributable to Howard operating in all-or-nothing mode: He completed passes of 49, 47, 45 and 43 yards to White, Shelton Gibson, Alford and Thompson but also missed throws that would have kept alive more methodical drives.
“He could definitely play better,” Dawson said. “He probably had about five balls that he wished he had back. He made some throws down the field that were big plays, but had some routine plays that floated on him a little bit.”
Whether Howard is West Virginia’s No. 1 quarterback entering spring depends on the recovery of four-star redshirt William Crest from shoulder ailments. But an up-and-down day in Memphis doesn’t obscure the fact Howard led WVU to 37 points for the second straight start and did not throw a pick in 105 passes this season.
If capable of replicating the progress he made these past two months, Howard could be difficult to unseat.
“I still have a long way to go,” he said, “and I think we’ll get there.”