By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
“I think we found a running back.”
— West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen after beating Bowling Green, 55-10, Saturday.
Suddenly, Dana Holgorsen is the master of understatement.
The running back he found is one Dustin Garrison of Pearland, Texas, a true freshman who ran over a wet track for 291 yards on the ground, the second-greatest performance ever by a WVU running back, as the Mountaineers put an end to their non-conference schedule.
It was the greatest performance by a WVU freshman, breaking Patrick White’s freshman record of 220 rushing yards ... by halftime.
Kay-Jay Harris holds the WVU all-time record with 337 yards against East Carolina in 2004, while Monongah’s Kerry Marbury rushed for 291 yards against Temple in 1971, a mark Garrison matched as he led the Mountaineers to their fourth victory in five games.
You might say Garrison is a “cut” above.
The emphasis surely is on cut, for his style is unlike almost any other that has been seen here, making sharp, darting moves into and out of the hole, making defenders miss or simply grab at air.
“He was making cuts no one has ever seen before,” center Joey Madsen said.
“We’ve seen him doing that in practice and in camp,” quarterback Geno Smith, who completed 18 of 30 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns, said when asked about Garrison’s ability to make moves. “It was just a matter of him getting up to game speed and being confident. You could see the more we gave him the ball the more confident he was, the more he started hitting holes and cutting things back.”
Asked where the cuts come from, Garrison answered:
“It’s my vision. I see the hole. I’m not looking at the ball. I see the hole.”
And the vision comes out of a traumatic experience that changed his life. A native of New Orleans, he and his family fled that city for Texas when Hurricane Katrina hit with such a vengeance.
“When I moved to Texas, I found Texas football is something serious,” he said. “I had great coaching in high school. My coach did a great job showing me how to cut, showing me patience, my vision. He taught me everything I know.”
So Katrina helped him become the football player he is and he has, in a way, honored the hurricane by wearing uniform No. 29.
“Katrina hit on the 29th. When I moved to Texas and they asked me what number I wanted, I said 29 to represent everything that happened. It’s a great feeling to know I can still wear the number and everyone to know what it’s all about,” he said.
Garrison had collected just 65 rushing yards in the season’s first four games, and WVU was virtually a one-dimensional team passing the ball. It was not the ideal situation, so much so that last week in a loss to LSU Smith set school records for passes attempted, completed and yards but put only 21 points on the board.
This week was much different, in approach and, admittedly, in the strength of the opposition, but it is what Holgorsen wants out of his offense.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “A lot of people are getting aggravated by me saying that. A lot of people want instant results, but the reality of it is it takes snaps to be good at it.”
The evidence that balance may be coming to fruition can be found in the fact that last week Smith had the greatest passing game in school history and this week Garrison matched the second-greatest running game.
And it isn’t a surprise to Holgorsen it came from Garrison.
“If you look at 16 games on his high school film last year, it’s like that. He’s used to 200-yard games. The more you give it to him and the more he plays, the better he gets. He’s patient and his vision is a little better. Vernard (Roberts) runs hard and Shawne (Alston) runs hard, but he sees things a little different.”
The game did not start well for WVU, even though they did recover a fumble on the opening kickoff and turn it into a 3-0 lead. Bowling Green, however, shredded the Mountaineers with a kickoff return and wound up taking a 10-3 lead before WVU settled down.
Settled down? They scored the next 52 points.
Recapping the scoring hardly matters. Suffice it to say that Smith threw a 33-yard touchdown to Ivan McCartney, a 15-yarder to his backup, Ryan Nehlen, for his first collegiate touchdown, and a 6-yard TD to Bradley Starks.
Garrison scored on 19- and 8-yard runs, and Alston scored on a pair of 8-yard TD runs. Toss in a couple of field goals by Tyler Bitancurt, and you understand why nearly half the 46,603 fans left at the half, the game in control at 38-10 and the weather miserable.
This week the Mountaineers open Big East play at home against Connecticut in a noon game.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.