This was one of those sneaky games to appreciate. See, on the surface it was a top 20 team putting the smack-down on an Iowa State squad that has been hapless for the past 5 years. They haven't even beaten a ranked team since 2011. A closer look, however reveals a Cyclone team that was surging. They were on a 2 game win streak, the most recent of those being a 66-10 obliteration of Texas Tech. The two games before that they gave Kansas State and Oklahoma all they wanted, losing by 5 and 10 respectively.
The point is this wasn't a fantastic team, but it wasn't Kansas either. This was a solid team feeling good about themselves and playing their best football of the season. Additionally they were at home in an environment that has tripped up many a foe in the past. This wasn't a cakewalk and I'll be honest, I spent the entire week concerned about how WVU would recover from a gut-wrenching loss to Oklahoma. This smelled like trouble.
But before we get to the game, let's take a minute to give a hearty "hell yeah" to the Pride of West Virginia for leading off the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!
FROM THE COLLEGE OF CREATIVE ARTS ON THE CAMPUS OF WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY— Smoking Musket (@SmokingMusket) November 24, 2016
This was so cool. I don't know that I've paid much attention to one of these things ever, but I was glued to the TV waiting to see The Pride strut their stuff.
Marching out of Herald Square blaring Country Roads... THE FEELS!!!!!— Afton (@akw304) November 24, 2016
And while the nationally televised performance of some show tune was really, really well done, I'm guessing if you're reading this your favorite part was when they started blasting Country Roads right before the camera cut away. Well fortunately for us there was an enterprising young woman who caught the Pride on camera showing NYC exactly what the hell is up.
No words for how cool that was hearing our little state's song blasted between the buildings of the Big Apple. My chill bumps had chill bumps. A huge congratulations to the Pride on a job exceedingly well done and a thanks to each and every one of them for what they do. Mountaineer sports are unique in their ability to bring us all together no matter where we are and the Pride is no small part of that. There simply isn't anything in the world like hearing those opening chords of Country Roads to transport you to your happy place.
Now let's get to the game.
Went Crawford, but it better be Howard. https://t.co/KOH9f8rcDY— Randy Gyorko (@GooseGyorko) November 26, 2016
Damn shame Pettaway has to burn his redshirt.— Epipen Virginia (@SmithFire13) November 26, 2016
Martell Pettaway has 100 yards rushing today. He's the fourth RB to do that this year. From what I can tell, that's first in #WVU history.— Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247) November 26, 2016
Skyler Howard to Shelton Gibson for an 80-yard touchdown and a 28-16 lead. Howard's day has been ... interesting. . pic.twitter.com/7tHstRCgKS— Mike Casazza (@mikecasazza) November 26, 2016
TIGHT END TOUCHDOWN!!!!!!!!!!!!
Way to adjust Shelton... way to make a play on the ball!!!— STEDMAN BAILEY SR (@iamSB3) November 26, 2016
Congratulations to Skyler Howard, who has passed Marc Bulger and now ranks third in career total offense at WVU with 7,848 yards. pic.twitter.com/56JTr7Sqc1— WVU Football (@WVUfootball) November 26, 2016
Question: It’s the first moments after this game, but senior day is up next.
Howard: (slight grin) Is it?
Question: what are you thinking as you look ahead to knowing next one is the last one at Mountaineer Field?
Howard: One more opportunity to get booed. Walking out there with my mom.
Question: Fair enough. How about one more opportunity to get to 10 wins?
Howard: I wish I could just go out there and play the game instead of doing the ceremony and everything that happens on senior day. I’m just there to play ball and get to 10 wins. that’s the only thing on my mind. You know senior day is good and everything for the guys that feel welcome and feel at home it’s good. For the team, you know the guys in our room, the team room, that’s good. To send the seniors off the right way. I just want to play some ball. That’s what I came here for and that’s what I’m going to do Saturday and that’s what I’m going to do in our bowl game.
Before and after this little stink bomb is the best of Skyler. He is surprised when told he’s eclipsed 8,000 yards passing because he doesn’t pay attention to that. When asked about his concern with where opposing corners line up he expresses none and even works in a nice compliment to WVU corner Rasul Douglas ("we do it in practice - as much of a ball hawk as Rasul is we don’t shy away from him").
When the subject turns to receiver Shelton Gibson he goes beyond platitudes, specifically calling out Gibson’s adjustment on a jump ball lofted his way that he hauled in for a score ("Everybody knows he can blow by people but to slow your body up and to still catch it was great on his part. it was great to see him do that cause that will help him at the next level.") He’s using his hands to demonstrate as he says this. He clearly cares and means every word he’s using.
The chat wraps up with some discussion of running back Martel Pettaway’s collegiate debut and Howard is once again a thoughtful teammate. "He was coached up - he got in there and did his thing." When asked if he had concerns on the newbie’s blitz pickup he said with no hesitation that he had none. In particular when the talk turned to ball security (a season-long bugaboo for WVU tailbacks) Howard admitted he simply said to Pettaway "ball security." Then he gave a longer answer about fumbling, explaining how guys are "fighting, fighting and guys are going for the ball but the plays over, you’re not going to get anywhere." Did he explain all of this to Pettaway? No. He simply said "ball security" because he knew the rest was just noise. He trusted his guy.
I give this exhaustive review because if I’m going to criticize 25% of what Howard said it’s only fair to point out how much about the other 75% was really, really great. And it becomes a nice point of departure to discuss his time here in general. About three quarters of the time he’s really, really great. But that other.....it can be ugly. There's negative fan reaction and a more negative counter-reaction by Howard. And it spiraled along so the first thing he thoughts of in a victorious locker room after one of his 5 best performances as a Mountaineer was getting booed on Senior Day.