Holgorsen gives QB enough rope to pull himself together

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A de-emphasized passing game doesn’t lay completely on the shoulders of Skyler Howard, though the doubters became more vocal after West Virginia’s quarterback completed only 48 percent of his throws through five Big 12 games.

While he attempted only 12 passes Saturday, Howard made them count—with 10 completions for 122 yards and two scores in a 38-20 victory over Texas.

Conjecture all you will about aliens abducting the real Dana Holgorsen, but the guy calling plays on West Virginia’s sideline understands what Howard can and can’t do given the current conditions.

Holgorsen leaned heavily on the run game—as in 51 plays to 12 heavily—yet left his quarterback enough flexibility to mix in a 53-yard bomb to Jovon Durante before the half. After Texas pulled within 21-17, Howard beat third-down pressure by zipping an 8-yard touchdown to Daikiel Shorts on a corner route.

“He has to work out a little bit in the pass game. He is certainly capable of those throws. I’ve seen him do it. I have seen him do it in games, and I have seen him do it in practice,” Holgorsen said. “He is capable of working and throwing the ball more. It gets to a point where you say, ‘You know what? I want to win this game, and what we are doing is working, so let’s just keep doing it.'”

The boos surfaced only once against Texas, after Howard was blitzed and threw behind Ka’Raun White on an opening-drive interception.

“I just missed,” Howard said. “That’s totally on me.”

(It should be noted, Howard and White completed the same play later for an 18-yard gain. “We got it cleaned up,” said White, who caught three passes for 25 yards in his first start.)

While Holgorsen doesn’t waste his breath lecturing fans to be more positive, he consistently emphasizes Howard’s unnoticed strengths, which include pre-snap reads that put the offense into the proper run plays. When the quarterback misread a few keys early in the game, Holgorsen delivered his own brand of negative feedback by chewing on Howard along the sideline.

Such errors, Holgorsen reiterated, are atypical.

“It’s tough when his confidence takes a hit and he gets booed. I tell him they are booing me, but he gets booed, and he has nasty articles written about him,” Holgorsen said. “He has thick skin. He is a great kid. He is pressing forward and giving it everything he possibly can.

“He’s a great communicator. He’s smart, and he understands the situation.”

Apparently so does his head coach, who has gone all-in on the run stuff until the passing game proves it deserves equal billing.

“The sign of a good  coach is someone who can use the players he has,” said center Tyler Orlosky. “Obviously he has two good running backs and a decent offensive line that can move the ball for him. If it’s working, there’s no reason to change that.”

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