Of the juniors and seniors on the WVU roster, 41 experienced the last trip to Norman two years ago when WVU lost 16-7. With the exception of walk-ons and transfers, most of the starters and role players have already experienced game day at Gaylord Memorial Stadium. But one starter who was not on the team was quarterback Skyler Howard.
Howard’s story is well known. He started in Fort Worth, Texas - a hotbed for football talent - where he broke numerous high school passing records. Instead of jumping straight to Division I football, Howard landed at Riverside City College and continued to shine. When he transferred to WVU, Howard sat behind Clint Trickett for most of the season, but was thrown into flames when Trickett went down against Kansas State. Since then Howard has taken hold of the position.
This season alone Howard has put up fantastic numbers:
- No. 4 in passing efficiency (193.6)
- No. 6 in passing yards per completion (15.8 yards/completion)
- No. 12 in total offense (334.7 yards/game)
- No. 17 in completion percentage (69%)
Now, Howard will take on the biggest test of his career, which is traveling to Norman, and leaving with a win. The biggest challenge will be the crowd noise. Gaylord Memorial Stadium holds more than 82,000 fans, and should be a packed house for a Top 25 matchup. Although Howard said he isn't going to be starstruck when taking the field against a big-time name like Oklahoma, there are still issues when dealing with a new road start.
“A year ago, yes," Howard said. "But now I have some games under my belt, and I understand it’s just football. You got to go out there, strap up, and play the game.”
WVU changes their signals every week. So, communicating with head coach Dana Holgorsen and disguising the play calls shouldn't be difficult, even if the red sea surrounding them is 80,000-plus fans strong. Oklahoma’s defense is solid - though not spectacular - upfront, and could disrupt offensive flow. The Sooners like to pack the box at times, because Mike Stoops' defense feels comfortable with their talented secondary, at least against lesser passing teams than West Virginia. Still, having a solid rushing attack could be the difference in the game for the Mountaineers, and that could require Howard to extend plays with his feet.
“When plays break down I can make something happen,” said Howard. His feet might be needed in the run game, but will also come in handy when he’s scrambling and trying to deliver the ball against the most challenging defensive backfield faced to date, especially because Holgorsen said the offensive line last week wasn’t very good in pass protection.
“I’m pretty anxious to get out there and work on it for the next three or four hours,” Holgorsen said early this week. “Having (Eric) Striker, (Charles) Tapper and a couple of those safeties coming off the edge is going to be a whole different speed.”
The defensive front for Oklahoma is probably the most daunting of anyone in the Big 12. So, communication with center Tyler Orlosky will also be key, as will the communication, even non-verbal, needed between Howard and the offense as it parlays its strengths against the first of four consecutive foes ranked in the preseason as the best in a very tight conference race.