MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Skyler Howard wouldn’t let strained ribs hold him back.
Howard tied a career high with five touchdown passes, leading West Virginia to a 38-21 win over Youngstown State on Saturday.
Howard, who hurt his ribs a week ago in a win over Missouri and was limited in practice leading up to this game, completed 20 of 33 passes for 389 yards.
“You’re going to be sore after game one, after not being hit all spring, all camp,” Howard said. “It’s nothing that’s not expected. You’ve got to fight through it, but it was fine today. I felt pretty good out there.”
Once he got going, Howard made it look simple. On three of his scoring throws, Youngstown State’s secondary was caught helping with run support, and Howard threw the ball far downfield and let his receivers get to the ball, often in double coverage.
Howard matched the five TDs he threw in a Cactus Bowl win over Arizona State in December.
“He’s always thrown a good deep ball,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
The Mountaineers (2-0) broke the game open with 24 unanswered points after falling behind 14-7 early in the second quarter.
Youngstown State (1-1) appeared to wear down in the second half on a hot day. The Penguins punted on six straight possessions spanning both halves, allowing West Virginia to take control.
West Virginia’s defense repeatedly forced Youngstown State quarterback Ricky Davis out of the pocket and into hurried throws or scrambling to run up field.
“Our guys didn’t panic when it was close,” Holgorsen said.
Howard had TD pass plays of 54 and 57 yards to Shelton Gibson, 53 yards to Ka’Raun White, 11 to Daikiel Shorts and 21 yards to Kennedy McKoy. Shorts’ third-quarter catch in the left corner of the end zone was set up by Gibson’s 45-yard reception.
“They ran by us a couple of times,” said Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini, who kept his postgame comments brief. “We didn’t play well enough to win the football game. We didn’t coach it well enough.”
YOUNGSTOWN STATE: Davis said this was the Penguins’ Super Bowl. With starting running back Jody Webb out with a knee injury, Davis kept the Penguins in the game for at least a half. But he alone couldn’t get it done.
“They obviously had a lot more depth than we had,” Davis said. “We just didn’t finish.”
Davis said he played the second half with an undisclosed injury. He finished 11 of 26 passing for 189 yards and one touchdown, and he ran for a team-high 62 yards.
WEST VIRGINIA: The slow-starting Mountaineers will need to work on scoring earlier in games and also more often when they reach the opponents’ 20-yard line. In two games West Virginia has touchdowns on one of seven total trips inside the red zone. Shortly before halftime, the Mountaineers marched 53 yards in the final minute, then Mike Molina missed a 30-yard field goal. In the third quarter, a holding penalty negated Rushel Shell’s 5-yard scoring run, and West Virginia settled for Molina’s 32-yard field goal.
Gibson, Shorts and White have combined for 89 percent of West Virginia’s receiving yards in two games. Gibson had six catches for 171 yards Saturday, Shorts had six catches for 93 yards, and White had five catches for 88 yards.
YOUNGSTOWN STATE: The Penguins host Robert Morris next Saturday, a team the beat 21-14 in overtime last year.
WEST VIRGINIA: The Mountaineers have a bye week before facing BYU for the first time in program history on Sept. 24 in Landover, Maryland.