MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Skyler Howard produced five touchdowns, and came close to a sixth on a heels-over-head leap that left teammates wincing, as No. 20 West Virginia recovered from its first loss of the season by crushing Kansas 48-21 on Saturday night.
“I’m worried about his safety. I hope he keeps his feet on the ground next time,” said center Tyler Orlosky.
Despite the lack of a proven backup, coach Dana Holgorsen said Howard’s attempt at a goal-line hurdle got the Mountaineers (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) revving against the outmanned Jayhawks (1-8, 0-6).
“He plays his best when he plays like that. I thought he sparked us,” Holgorsen said. “I’m not scared of injuries. If you start getting scared of injuries, your going to get injured.”
Justin Crawford ran for 129 yards and Kennedy McKoy for 127, part of 605 total on an easy night that kept West Virginia one loss behind Oklahoma in the conference race.
Howard’s 260-yard passing night favored Shelton Gibson (102 yards and two touchdowns) and Daikiel Shorts (104 yards with one score). The senior quarterback also ran for touchdowns of 22 and 33 yards, rebounding from a three-turnover performance in last week’s loss at Oklahoma State.
“We were just playing ball and doing our thing,” Howard said. “To lose one game and let the season go out the door, that’s not West Virginia and that’s not us.”
Taylor Martin took a check-down pass 45 yards for a touchdown and Steve Sims caught an 11-yarder for Kansas, which endured its 40th consecutive road loss but showed second-half life offensively.
Ke’aun Kinner also ran in a 2-yarder as the Jayhawks capitalized on fumbled exchange between Howard and Crawford.
That was the lone turnover for the Mountaineers, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry to account for 341 yards rushing.
“They had lots of big chunks today,” said Kansas coach David Beaty. “We didn’t do a very good job up front in the run game.”
West Virginia led 10-0 when Howard took a quarterback draw and raced through a vacated secondary.
Kansas stopped the Mountaineers’ next drive with a goal-line stand at the 1, but Howard soon made it 17-0 with a 33-yard scamper.
Shorts caught a 6-yard score and Gibson hauled in a 19-yarder just 52 seconds before halftime to build a 31-0 cushion. Gibson’s 32-yard catch off Howard’s scramble made it 45-7 in the third quarter, sending most of the crowd home.
Jayhawks starter Montell Cozart was 11-of-24 passing with an interception before suffering concussion symptoms, Beaty said. Off the bench, Carter Stanley threw two touchdowns on 9-of-11 passing for 127 yards.
Cornerback Rasul Douglas picked off each Kansas quarterback, giving him a team-leading five interceptions. The final turnover erased a late scoring chance in the second half, when the Jayhawks piled up 306 of their 441 yards.
“I like the way we played in the first half. Second half, not so much,” said West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “I think we just relaxed. You get up 31 points, and the crowd left, the atmosphere was gone and things were kind of blah. We’ve got to do a better job of finishing.”