I recently stated that if WVU couldn’t establish the running game against Arizona State, WVU would lose because of Holgorsen’s stubbornness . I said Skyler Howard can’t pass, and Holgorsen would rather lose than play Chris Chugunov at quarterback.
Sitting here this morning, all I can say is “Boy, was I ever wrong”!
Howard was the offensive MVP of the Cactus Bowl, and he should have been. He threw for over 500 yards, setting a new Cactus Bowl passing record, and completed over 56% of his passes. Now unlike Holgorsen I’m not going to blame the receivers as only a couple of passes were dropped. Howard threw 2 interceptions, and had several over throws to wide-open receivers. However, this was the BEST game of Howard’s career at WVU. If Howard had been more accurate with his throws, the game would not have been a 1-point victory, it would have been a blowout.
What Howard did to help himself and WVU was to increase his passing efficiency from between 46 to 48 percent to 56 percent. Neither team could get their running games going, for both defenses did a very good job at stopping the run.
The most humorous play of the game was the pool shot pass that Howard threw to Shelton Gibson. Gibson fumbled the ball into the hands of an Arizona defender who couldn’t hold-on to it, and it ended up in the hands of Daikiel Shorts for a big WVU gain and a first down.
The Iron Man of the game has to be WVU WR Jordan Thompson to take the hit he did and come right back. I thought Thompson was out for the game, but when he came back on the field and made another catch, I was happy for him.
Daikiel Shorts made two great catches for touchdowns. I loved the first one. Shorts was in front of the defender, and worked his way to behind the defender, then reached out with his left hand to bring the ball in for a WVU touchdown. Great catch.
Howard’s most impressive throw was the one he threw over the head and out in front of Shelton Gibson. Gibson didn’t have to come back to make the catch, all he had to do was put his hands out in front of him and catch it. Gibson didn’t even have to break his stride. This was the first time I’d seen Howard make this throw all season. This was a great throw and beautiful catch and run for a touchdown by Shelton Gibson.
One of my other favorite offensive plays was the first run of Eli Wellman. He gained 24 yards for a WVU first down, and even tried to jump defenders. Come on now, a 230+ pound back trying to jump over anyone? I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this. Wellman runs the ball with complete abandonment, and I wish he had gotten more carries in the 2nd half. On his only other running play Wellman was tackled soon after he got the ball for a 5-yard loss. He did catch a pass in the backfield and was again almost immediately tackled for a 3-yard loss.
Daryl Worley’s replacement, Ricky Rump III, struggled all game and Arizona State when after him. Occasionally you could see coaches and players talking to him on the sideline, for it was evident he was frustrated.
Shelton Gibson made a huge play and a dumb play on the same play. Gibson’s first pass of the game was for over 20-yards and gave WVU a first down, but his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty backed them up 15-yards. When Gibson got to the sideline, you saw WR Coach Lonnie Galloway place his hands on the sides of Gibson’s helmet, and Gibson got a chewing out. Gibson didn’t have any more personal fouls the rest of the game. Whatever Galloway said to him worked.
The first run of Rushel Shell III was his best, and after that he appeared to struggle. Shell has to become more consistent if he wants to play in the NFL.
Shaq Petteway was the WVU Cactus Bowl Defensive Player of the game. Shaq put pressure on Arizona State’s QB and got a couple of sacks. WVU’s defense did a decent job at getting pressure on the QB, but it failed to record a single turn-over – though it had many shots at interceptions and fumbles. Worley and Karl Joseph were sorely missed and may have had a pick six.
I’ll say this about WVU QB Skyler Howard, he is one tough cookie. He took some big shots and there were times I didn’t think he was going to get back-up.
My primary issue with the game was the officiating crew. Daikiel Shorts got mugged in the end-zone, a flag was thrown and picked up without any real explanation. Then an Arizona State defender tackled Skyler Howard using the crown of his helmet into the chest and there was no penalty for targeting. The officiating crew at times seem to be favoring Arizona State. Holgorsen was livid and at one time threw himself on the ground, for he was so mad. Of all the Bowl games this Big 10 crew was the worst I’ve seen all season.
It was good to see Todd Graham and Keith Patterson lose to WVU. There were a few WVU defensive players that didn’t like how Patterson left WVU and were somewhat out-spoken on this during pregame interviews.
Some WVU fans hated for WVU to win this game, hoping WVU Holgorsen would be fired if the Mountaineers lost. Holgorsen was going to be WVU’s coach in 2016 regardless of the outcome of the game. I just wish some of Holgorsen’s sideline antics had made the highlight reels.
My hat goes off to Skyler Howard, the players and coaches of WVU. You had a game plan that I didn’t think you could execute and win with. You won with the pass and with Skyler Howard at the helm.
CONGRATULATIONS to the WVU coaches and players for winning the Cactus Bowl! I think WVU needs to add a couple hundred thousand to Tony Gibson’s contract, for WVU can not afford to lose him. Gibson has proved his worth.