West Virginia was only leading Iowa State by 10 late in the third quarter when Skyler Howard lined up in the shotgun and took the snap 32 yards to the end zone for a momentum stealing touchdown. It pushed the Mountaineers lead to 17 points, and was the perfect answer to the offensive equation that’s seemed to bother the Mountaineers though the day and, at times, the season.
It’s been the three headed beast of Howard, Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell that’s led the way during WVU’s recent streak. There were hopes that Donte Thomas-Williams and Jacky Marcellus could come on to the scene and make an impact, but it’s been the trio who’ve redesigned Dana Holgorsen’s offense to more or a run style attack.
Aside from Elijah Wellman's fourth quarter touches, the three combined for all of WVU’s rushing yards against the Cyclones. It’s been WVU’s run game that’s dictated opposing defenses, be has been pivotal in all of West Virginia’s wins. The run spreads WVU’s weapons all over the field, and Holgorsen has been able to utilize in this second half of the schedule.
It’s not even that Holgorsen is looking to control the clock. After beating ISU, he admitted that the team looks better when they are moving with some sort of tempo, but their ground attack is what moves the ball down the field. Howard’s timely success put the Mountaineers into another bowl game, and keeps attention away from Smallwood - who is having a monster season with over 1,300 rushing yards.
“The way our offense is now he has a lot more responsibility in the run game, said center Tyler Orlosky. “That leads to him getting hit more, which we don't want, but he does a good job with what he's able to do.”
Howard has good vision in the open field, but the threat of a mobile quarterback is enduring those big time hits, which Howard has taken a few of this season. In a conference that’s been injury prone, its been fortunate for West Virginia that Howard hasn’t caught the bug.
“For him to stay healthy compared to Baylor who's lost two quarterbacks and TCU quarterback who is banged up, I think it says a lot about the kind of person his is. He’s a tough kid that works hard everyday, and won’t injuries hold him back.”
The defense looks to be peaking, and if Howard can stay healthy, the Mountaineers are a tough team to beat for anyone. It would be nice to see the Mountaineers tested in their bowl with another strong team. Holgorsen seems to have figured his team out, and if it weren’t for some key injuries, the Big 12 leaderboard could be looking a lot different.