Howard's 3 TD tosses leads WVU over Liberty 41-17
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) Skyler Howard is avoiding significant mistakes as West Virginia's new starting quarterback, and his steady play is a big reason the Mountaineers are 2-0 for the first time since 2012.
Howard threw three touchdown passes Saturday in the Mountaineers' 41-17 victory over Liberty.
It was the most efficient performance to date for Howard, who finished 21 of 26 for 263 yards. He had completed just 52 percent of his throws in three previous starts.
He has yet to throw an interception in 136 pass attempts since taking over for the injured Clint Trickett in the 2014 regular-season finale. He's lost one fumble.
''It's why I bought into him in the offseason,'' said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. ''Looking back at the turnover percentage that he did in all his snaps as a sophomore was better than anybody I've ever coached. That was the number one thing with me wanting to go with him. He does a great job of taking care of the ball.''
Liberty coach Turner Gill certainly noticed.
''He did a lot of good things,'' Gill said of Howard. ''Very efficient in his passing game, very accurate. They were patient.''
Holgorsen also noted that as a team, West Virginia didn't turn the ball over for the second straight week. A year ago, the Mountaineers averaged more than two turnovers per game.
''Everybody's pretty fired up about that,'' he said. ''The fact that offensively we continue to take care of it is good.''
After a 44-0 win a week ago over Georgia Southern, West Virginia held Liberty scoreless for the first half, when the Mountaineers built a 20-0 lead.
West Virginia's bid for its first back-to-back shutouts since 1962 ended on Todd Macon's TD run late in the third quarter. But the Mountaineers allowed Josh Woodrum to throw for 280 yards.
''I thought we were pretty lethargic on defense, to be honest with you,'' Holgorsen said.
Woodrum threw a 60-yard touchdown pass for FCS team Liberty (1-1). But John Lunsford missed three first-half field goal tries and Desmond Rice fumbled an option pitch with nobody ahead of him near midfield in the first quarter.
The Flames have never beaten a Power 5 Conference opponent and fell to 1-5 against FBS schools under Gill.
A Liberty punt into the wind took a backward bounce and set up West Virginia from its 47. Howard, who had mostly attempted short passes up until that point, completed two straight throws to Daikiel Shorts covering 43 yards before hitting freshman Jovon Durante from 10 yards out for a 27-0 lead.
Wendell Smallwood led all rushers with 88 yards. He recovered his own fumble in the end zone at the end of a 5-yard run shortly before halftime and added a 5-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter.
Howard was able to overcome problems finding the end zone once West Virginia reached an opponent's 20-yard line. But that wasn't the case early in the game. He overthrew receivers twice on third down from inside the 15-yard line, resulting in two short first-quarter field goals.
But Howard was mostly on target. He also had scoring tosses of 52 yards to Shelton Gibson and 4 yards to Elijah Wellman and ran for 68 yards, nearly matching his 69 rushing yards in a Liberty Bowl loss to Texas A&M.
''He was running the ball when nothing was there, got a couple scrambles, picked up some big first downs for us,'' Smallwood said.
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