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WVU Opposing Offensive Player to Watch: QB Skyler Howard

QB Skyler Howard has spent his college career proving himself. He'll try to do it again on Thursday against the Frogs.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia Quarterback Skyler Howard doesn't look like the biggest threat physically for the Frogs (he's not-quite-6 feet tall), but he has the potential for a strong game on Thursday.  Of course, we all know that it takes more than just the QB's talent to have a successful offense.  While Howard is a junior, 9 of the 14 Wide Receivers on the WVU roster are underclassmen.  4 of 6 Tight Ends are underclassmen, and 4 of 6 Running Backs are underclassmen.  Remind you of a Horned Frogs roster circa 2013? But Howard has worked hard to get where he is, and he doesn't have the luxury of waiting for his offense to grow up this season.

Howard is a Fort Worth local from Brewer High School.  He was 126 of 238 for 1,377 yards passing and 13 touchdowns his senior year.  He also had 120 carries for 597 yards.  He was hoping for a chance to play with a Division I school, but no one offered him an opportunity.  Coach Paul Sharr eventually got him a shot with Stephen F. Austin, and he was invited to be a walk-on.  His freshman year, he played a variety of positions on both sides of the ball, and he decided he was done wasting time.  He moved to California and got himself a spot on the Riverside City College team as a Quarterback.  He excelled, and in 2013 went 219 of 325 for 3,151 yards passing and 33 touchdowns.  He threw 6 interceptions for the year and averaged 262.6 yards per game.  He led the team to a 10-2 record and a California State Championship game appearance.

Suddenly, he got national attention, and his dream of playing for a Division I team came true in West Virginia.  He was backup to Clint Trickett last year in that incredible victory against Baylor that made us drop to our knees and hail the Mountaineers in 2014.  He took over against Kansas State after Trickett was injured, and he completed 15 of 23 passes for 198 yards and 2 touchdowns.  His first start was against Iowa State, where he threw for 285 yards and 3 touchdowns to lead the team in a comeback victory.  Then he had a whopping 346 yards passing and 3 touchdowns against Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl.  He finished the season with a total of 829 yards on 56 completions and an average of 7.54 yards per attempt.  He had 8 touchdowns and no interceptions with 4 sacks.

This season, Howard has become the offensive leader and takes the job seriously, just as he did in high school.  He's 3-3 heading into Thursday night.  While he's had some huge numbers,

he's also had some tough games.

Even in his losses he's pulled some great numbers.  He's 111 of 188 for 1,566 yards passing so far, with a 59% completion rate (up from 50% last season).  His yards per attempt have improved to 8.33, with his longest pass a whopping 70 yards to Shelton Gibson for a touchdown against Baylor a couple weeks ago.

And while a 62-38 loss seems like an embarrassment, Howard had the Bears sweating and swearing through the first half of the game.  He admits that his offense needs to maintain the fire they start with each game.  That's tough to do when you go into overtime against a team like Oklahoma State, who seems to have more fight in them this year than Jack holding onto a floating door in Titanic.  The 33-26 loss in overtime was a tough ending for a guy who's spent plenty of time proving himself worthy enough to be a starting Division I Quarterback.

The Frogs can expect to see fire in Howard's eyes on Thursday, as he looks to prove himself surrounded by blacked-out fans at the Amon.  The Frogs shouldn't take his record as proof of his ability and should watch for those surprising long passes when the pressure is on.  He's proved he's not fazed by big names like Baylor, Oklahoma, or Oklahoma State; he just focuses on each play and tries his best to connect with an offense that's still learning.  And considering we have a defense that's still learning, that could make for some nice teachable moments for the Frog D.  It could also build the Frogs' confidence a bit more as we enter the toughest month of the season.  But we can't get complacent.  Howard has his weaknesses, but he has plenty of strengths and the potential to lead this offense to a strong second-half of the 2015 season.