MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Skyler Howard played through a rib injury and Rushel Shell missed most of the second half with leg cramps, yet West Virginia overcame setbacks to their top two offensive threats to break a five-game losing streak to Southeastern Conference teams.
Backup running back Justin Crawford rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown filling in for Shell, and Howard stayed in the game to lead the Mountaineers to a 26-11 win over Missouri on Saturday.
“We’ll take it,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
So does Missouri, which lost in the debut for coach Barry Odom and fell in an opener for the first time since 2001, which was the first season under previous coach Gary Pinkel.
Howard was hurt when he was tackled by Missouri’s Donavin Newsom while sliding during a run near halftime. Trainers worked on his ribs before the second-half kickoff and he returned to the game.
Holgorsen said Howard is sore but no ribs were broken.
“He knew we needed him,” Holgorsen said. “The kid is a competitor and is going to do anything … to help the team win.”
Howard didn’t attempt a carry the rest of the game. He finished 23 of 35 for 235 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.
In the brief time Howard sat out, backup quarterback William Crest lost a fumble and Chris Chugunov threw an interception.
“When guys go down, (other) guys need to go in and play at a high level,” Holgorsen said. “Some did. Some didn’t.”
Crawford did. The junior college transfer got most of the carries after Shell walked off the field gingerly early in the third quarter and didn’t return. Holgorsen said Shell had leg cramps and “he’s fine.”
Crawford had a 1-yard scoring run in the third quarter.
“From a teammate perspective, it’s good to know when you come off the field they’re putting someone in that is just as good as you,” Shell said.
Shell finished with 90 yards, including a 23-yard TD in the first quarter. He said he didn’t want to return to the game after leaving and “mess up the flow and the tempo” of the offense.
Missouri struggled most of the game under sophomore quarterback Drew Lock, who threw an 8-yard scoring pass to Chris Black with under two minutes left.
“I don’t feel like I did a very good job on this,” Odom said. “I’m obviously very thankful and honored to be the head coach. But I’ve got a job to do and I didn’t get it done today.”
MISSOURI: New offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has two weeks to get the Tigers ready for the grueling Southeastern Conference schedule. The Tigers were lethargic against a West Virginia defense that had nine new starters. Lock finished 23 of 51 for 280 yards.
Odom said there was “some good and some bad” about Lock’s performance.
“He’s going to continue to get better,” Odom said.
WEST VIRGINIA: Like many games last season, the Mountaineers had trouble reaching the end zone following long drives. Four stalled inside the Missouri 10, all leading to short field goals by Mike Molina.
“That’s not good,” Holgorsen said. “There’s going to be times where those field goals need to be touchdowns. We have to do a better job of finishing drives.”
MISSOURI: Tigers fans get to see how Odom does for themselves in the home opener against Eastern Michigan — a 61-14 winner over Mississippi Valley State — before Missouri’s SEC home opener with Georgia a week later.
WEST VIRGINIA: The Mountaineers welcome ex-Nebraska coach Bo Pelini in their first-ever meeting with Youngstown State, which gave Pittsburgh a scare on the road a year ago.