Howard's 5 TDs lead West Virginia past Youngstown State
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Last week against Missouri, the West Virginia offense was methodical, efficient and accurate, picking apart the Tigers in the intermediate passing game.
But the Mountaineers came up with a different plan Saturday: Draw in Youngstown State, then go for the kill.
“We said we were going to run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, and once those safeties came up, we were going to let it fly,” junior wide receiver Shelton Gibson said. “That's exactly what happened.”
That plan worked to perfection. Quarterback Skyler Howard threw for 389 yards and a career-high five touchdowns — three coming from more than 50 yards — as the Mountaineers (2-0) turned aside Youngstown State, 38-21, at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“It's simple: Go where the numbers aren't,” Howard said.
West Virginia's offensive explosion in the second half didn't come without trepidation. Youngstown State (1-1) took control of the tempo of the game early and briefly led in the second quarter after a 74-yard touchdown pass from Ricky Davis to Alvin Bailey.
The Mountaineers struggled in the first half to keep Youngstown State from methodically advancing down the field, and they missed a number of key tackles — a major component of what defensive coordinator Tony Gibson called a shameful performance.
“Horrible. Terrible,” Gibson said. “Couldn't tackle. Couldn't cover. I apologize to all West Virginia football fans and everybody who's ever played here on defense for that showing.”
Senior quarterback Skyler Howard connected on a pair of deep-ball touchdowns — 53 yards to Ka'Raun White and 54 yards to Gibson — the latter of which tied the game late in the second quarter. The Mountaineers drove again at the end of the half, but junior kicker Mike Molina shanked a last-second, 30-yard field goal that kept the score at 14-14.
But in the second half, West Virginia asserted its will. The Mountaineers pulled away in the third quarter, outgaining Youngstown State, 223-68, with Howard tossing touchdowns to senior Daikiel Shorts and Gibson.
Gibson finished with a career-high 171 yards on six catches, proving that after a relatively quiet season opener against Missouri, the chemistry between him and Howard on the deep ball is still there.
“When Skyler gives me that look, I already know,” Gibson said. “He doesn't even have to signal me anything. He can signal (anything), and I already know he's going to go deep. That's just the connection we have.”
Youngstown State found an offensive groove again in the fourth quarter after bringing in backup quarterback Trent Hosick, who made it 31-21 after a 15-yard touchdown scramble.
However, Howard hit freshman running back Kennedy McKoy with a 21-yard touchdown pass on the next drive to put the game away.
David Statman is a freelance writer.