Quarterback Skyler Howard has had an roller-coaster first season as a starter at West Virginia.
The junior earned praise early in the season before a rough October stretch had some Mountaineers fans calling for him to be benched. Undeterred, Howard has led West Virginia to three straight wins after its winless October and Dana Holgorsen's team is eyeing a 8-4 final record and finish in the top half of the Big 12 standings. Heading into West Virginia's final two regular-season games, Howard has 2,549 total yards and has accounted for 24 touchdowns through 10 games. This week, Howard took some time to chat with ESPN.com about his season.
Take me through this season. As the quarterback, the face of the program, I’m sure you’ve heard good things and bad things.
Skyler Howard: No doubt. It all comes with the position. Good and bad, I embrace it.
Was there a point that was the toughest to work through?
Howard: No. Our team has been fighting. That long October we had, we never lost sight of what we wanted to do. We kept fighting, so that made it easier on me as a leader of the team. We kept fighting and we’re continuing to fight.
What were those conversations like after October (when West Virginia lost to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Baylor in consecutive games)?
Howard: We were just talking about how it was not going to be any easier from here on out. We didn’t expect anybody to feel sorry for us. We didn’t really care what people were saying at the time. We understood these next games weren’t going to be handed to us.
Has it been validating to come back after going through that gauntlet?
Howard: No doubt. We have some momentum right now; our guys are bouncing around. The energy we brought to Lawrence (Kansas) this weekend was unbelievable. Going into a place that is not as exciting to play -- the atmosphere is kind of dull -- we brought ourselves to that game and attacked it.
Does it feel good to finally get things rolling?
Howard: I’m to the point I don’t care what people think. I don’t care who it is, analyzers or fans. We’re just playing ball.
How do you feel about your play?
Howard: It’s not exactly where I pictured it. Putting the work in the offseason, it’s not really what you’d hope for. But I’m doing some good things in the run game, putting our team in the right position to be successful. Our passing game can step it up a little bit and I’m a big part of that, obviously. I’m not a big stat guy --I’m not worried about stats -- the only stat I’m worried about is the "W," so as long as we continue to keep doing that, I’m good.
Do you feel like you’ve continued to grow within the offense?
Howard: Absolutely, the game is definitely slowing down. Every game is getting slower. I’m starting to see things before they happen and really understand exactly what Coach Holgorsen wants.
During that rough stretch, Holgorsen really backed you, over and over again. Did that feel good, especially after the journey you took to get to Morgantown?
Howard: No doubt. To have him have my back like that, when the whole fan base is calling for somebody else, and they’re not happy with either of us. We both get booed at our home stadium. He knows where I’m coming from and I know where he’s coming from now. To have him on my side is the main thing. All that matters is that coaching staff and who’s in that locker room. To have him there is everything.
What will be the key to making sure there are no steps backward?
Howard: Finish. We talked about it all offseason every since last year. We have the perfect opportunity to do that this season and let the cards fall where they have for the bowl. We’re taking it week by week.
You have an experienced team. How much does that help to finish?
Howard: That’s exactly why we were able to bounce back. A young team going through four straight losses like that against ranked opponents might lose confidence. But we never did. Our seniors understand how this game works and understand what needed to be done and reinforced that in meetings. We were able to get back on track. So we want to send them off right; we want to send them off with a "W."