December 19, 2014

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen turns to a quarterback who made just one start all season, but that may not be a bad thing.

Texas A&M is hoping a change on the sideline can reverse its fortunes on defense.

Skyler Howard will start under center for the Mountaineers and looks to take advantage of facing the Aggies' woeful defense in the Liberty Bowl on Monday.

Quarterback Clint Trickett was originally cleared to play after suffering a head injury in a 26-20 loss to then-No. 12 Kansas State on Nov. 20, but announced Friday he was retiring after enduring five concussions over the last 14 months.

''It would be dangerous for me to be out there,'' he said.

Trickett had a 67.1 completion percentage and topped 300 yards passing in the first seven games. That includes 322 yards on 23-of-35 passing to go with 3 TDs in a 41-27 victory over then-No. 4 Baylor that is the Mountaineers' signature win this season.

Howard played well in his place, though, completing 57.1 percent of his passes for 483 yards and five touchdowns.

He tossed three TDs in his first career start to help West Virginia (7-5) end a three-game slide with a 37-24 win at Iowa State in the regular-season finale Nov. 29. Unlike Trickett, he's also a rushing threat with 107 yards on 12 carries in three games.

''The improvements that he made in the last two months, I've never seen it with a quarterback before, not as a true sophomore,'' Holgorsen said.

Kevin White had a Big 12-best 102 catches, but 96 of them came from Trickett. Of his 1,318 yards, only 69 have come while linking up with Howard in the last two games. Fellow senior Mario Alford fared better with two TDs against the Cyclones.

"Skyler and I are starting to get on pace, and he has been doing a great job at practice," White said. "He has improved, and his knowledge of the offense has improved tremendously. ... We will make it work."

That appears to be especially true against the Aggies (7-5), who have lost five of seven games and surrendered the most yards per game in the SEC at 449.0.

The defense has been particularly poor over the past three games with an average of 553.3 yards, including 360.7 rushing. Texas A&M will try to stop Rushel Shell, who ran for a season-high 146 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries Nov. 29.

The Aggies were shredded for 384 yards on the ground while losing 23-17 to LSU on Nov. 27 to finish 3-5 in SEC play and in sixth place in the West Division. That was enough for coach Kevin Sumlin to fire defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.

Linebackers coach Mark Hagan will replace him in Memphis on an interim basis and try to help A&M win a team-record fourth straight bowl game after beating Duke 52-48 in last year's Peach Bowl.

"For us, as I say every year, we look at bowl games the same way," Sumlin said. "It's a culmination of our year, and for our seniors it's a way for them to leave a legacy of who they are. You like for them to go out on a winning note. We've always treated the bowl game as the beginning of next season."

That future includes freshman quarterback Kyle Allen, who hit 61.3 percent of his passes for 764 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions in four games since supplanting sophomore Kenny Hill as the starter.

Allen had his best performance in a 41-38 win at then-No. 3 Auburn on Nov. 8, completing 19 of 29 passes for 277 yards with four TDs and one pick.

"He keeps getting better each day," offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said of Allen. "West Virginia has an aggressive scheme at times. They will mix it up a lot. Kyle has to know when to get the ball out of his hand and make the right decisions but still show that poise he's been showing lately."

Allen has built a strong rapport with Josh Reynolds. The sophomore wide receiver has 15 receptions for 244 yards and four touchdowns in four games, including two with a career-high 125 yards on five catches in a 34-27 loss to Missouri on Nov. 15.

While this is the first meeting between A&M and West Virginia, the Liberty Bowl will provide a reunion. Holgorsen was Sumlin's offensive coordinator at Houston from 2008-09.

"When it comes to a lot of things football related, he's off the charts as a really, really smart guy," Sumlin said.

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