Mountaineers show they can run, too
MORGANTOWN - Dustin Garrison knew the numbers were mounting. He had more important things to think about, however, than the specifics of what they were.
For instance, when he cracked 100 yards rushing early in the second quarter he probably had an idea. He might have been aware even that he was approaching 200 yards and halftime hadn't arrived.
But Garrison had no idea that he was close to 300 yards before the fourth quarter of West Virginia's game with Bowling Green on Saturday had reached the halfway point.
"After a while they finally started telling me,'' Garrison said. "And then they told me I was at 291 and [running backs coach Robert] Gillespie told me to get out. And I was like, 'Really? You don't want me to get nine more yards?' And he said, 'No. Just get out.'"
And why not? By that point Garrison and the Mountaineers were long past proving the point that they could run the football.
In fact, his 291 yards on 32 carries - tied for the second-best single-game total in school history - was more than enough of a message to future opponents that simply trying to stop West Virginia's passing game won't be enough to curtail this offense. It might have been during the early weeks of the season, but no more.
"When Garrison is running like that it has to get frustrating for the defense,'' said West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. "That's what's great about this offense. Once everybody gets clicking and everything gets rolling, I think we can be special.''
If there was a time for West Virginia's offense to be rounding into a more balanced unit, this would be it. After a 4-1 start in the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Mountaineers begin Big East play Saturday with a noon game at home against Connecticut (2-3).
So how do those seven upcoming Big East defensive coordinators approach a game with West Virginia now?
"Oh, I'm expecting to see everything,'' Smith said. "Pretty much everyone has already showed us everything they can. They've press-manned us and we've put up yards in the passing game. They've zoned us and we ran the ball. We're going to take whatever they give us.''
Now, though, is the first time this season that the Mountaineers truly look equipped to take whatever is given. Through the first four games, West Virginia was averaging an anemic 76.5 rushing yards per game. Garrison himself had more than that by the end of the first quarter against Bowling Green. By the end of the game he and the rest of the team had 360 rushing yards. Only once since Rich Rodriguez hastily packed his bags for Michigan in 2007 have the Mountaineers run for more yards.
And they have never done it in an offense that also averages 363 yards throwing the football.
"I think every game so far could have been like this,'' said Shawne Alston, who gained 49 yards and scored two touchdowns on just eight carries. "It was just a matter of the backs hitting the holes.''
Well, that might be a bit of an overstatement. But the point is that possibilities for the running game have always been there. It just took a few games for the Mountaineers to discover it.
And now it is up to Garrison and the rest of the West Virginia backs to keep it going. Remember, heading into Saturday's game with Bowling Green, Garrison had never started. Andrew Buie and Vernard Roberts are still factors in the run game. Garrison will certainly get the first chance to run the ball Saturday against UConn, but the others now have something to chase, too. And competition can only make the ground game even better.
"I tell the guys that every Saturday is a chance to become a legend,'' said Gillespie. "Dustin took advantage of his opportunity.''
BRIEFLY: Garrison was named the team's offensive champion by the coaches, while cornerback Keith Tandy and kicker Tyler Bitancurt won the defensive and special teams honors, respectively. Russell Houghton-James and Ben Tomasek were the scout team champions.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.