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WVU Offense Finds Balance

Mountaineers rebound from slow start to win

October 2, 2011
By JOHN RABY , The Associated Press

MORGANTOWN - West Virginia running back Dustin Garrison couldn't have imagined this.

In a season already filled with team struggles on the ground, the freshman rushed for 291 yards and two touchdowns to lead No. 22 West Virginia to a 55-10 victory against Bowling Green on Saturday.

West Virginia's Geno Smith continued his solid season by throwing for three scores. But for the first time, the Mountaineers (4-1) found balance in their offense.

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West Virginia entered the game as one of the worst rushing teams in the FBS with 306 total yards. The Mountaineers compiled 360 yards on the ground Saturday.

"I think we found a running back," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.

The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Garrison has emerged from a group of young runners that had struggled to gain a foothold. Garrison got his first start against LSU a week ago due to an injury to Andrew Buie and entered Saturday's game with 65 total yards.

With the offensive line opening huge holes that had been lacking in previous games, Garrison had 233 yards by halftime and set a freshman single-game school record. He scored on runs of 19 and 8 yards in a steady rain.

His 291 yards tied for the second-highest total in school history. His 32 carries more than doubled his season total.

"The holes were there," Garrison said. "The linemen were doing their jobs and making holes. Most of the yards that I got came from cutting off blocks that the fullbacks made.

"The game has definitely slowed down a lot since Day One. I think it's showing. I'm seeing the holes a lot faster and hitting them a lot faster. I'm coming off blocks and running defenders into blocks, things like that. It reminds me of high school."

Garrison had seven 200-yard games as a high school senior in Pearland, Texas.

"The more you give it to him and the more he plays, the better he gets," Holgorsen said.

It marked the most rushing yards in a growing niche of high-scoring offenses led by Holgorsen, who was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State last year and at Houston the two years before that.

"To be honest with you, we were more worried about stopping the passing game," Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. "Their quarterback is excellent and they really stretch you across the field."

The Mountaineers showed no signs of coasting between last week's draining home loss to LSU and the upcoming Big East opener with Connecticut. West Virginia's 643 total yards were the most in four years and the highest ever at its 31-year-old stadium.

"We told them all week to become a smarter football team," Holgorsen said. "We had one penalty and zero turnovers. You've got to get up for whatever game you're playing."

West Virginia did, holding the Mid-American Conference's highest-scoring offense to 217 total yards. The Falcons (3-2) entered the game averaging 38.5 points.

Bowling Green's Matt Schilz came to Morgantown tied for the FBS lead with 14 touchdown passes. He threw for an early score but lost a fumble and was intercepted three times, twice by Keith Tandy. Schilz finished 13 of 25 for 114 yards.

He didn't have much help available. Bowling Green's leading rusher, Anthon Samuel, missed the game with an injured ankle, while Eugene Cooper, the team's leading receiver, sat out with an unspecified NCAA clearinghouse issue.

"You lose a game by 45 points, to say you lost it because of two guys. That would be a stretch," Clawson said.

West Virginia overcame two early miscues on special teams by scoring on five consecutive first-half drives.

Garrison fumbled the ball inside the Bowling Green 10 late in the second quarter but West Virginia lineman Tyler Rader recovered. Smith found Brad Starks in the end zone on the next play for a 38-10 halftime lead.

Smith completed 18 of 30 passes for 238 yards. His other scoring tosses were 33 yards to Ivan McCartney and 15 yards to Ryan Nehlen. It was the first career touchdown catch for the grandson of WVU Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen.

Smith was replaced by backup Paul Millard on West Virginia's first series of the fourth quarter.

West Virginia's special teams were awful against LSU and the problems continued early against Bowling Green.

The Falcons' Jerry Gates fumbled away the opening kickoff that led to a West Virginia field goal, but he returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards to setting up Schilz's 18-yard scoring toss to Ray Hutson.

Cory Smith's 14-yard punt on West Virginia's next possession gave the Falcons the ball at the 50. Hutson took a reverse handoff and floated a pass toward a wide open Alex Bayer, but Tandy got there just in time to break it up in the end zone. The Falcons settled for a field goal and a 10-3 lead and didn't score again.