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December 29, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Garrison could be vital in Orange Bowl

MORGANTOWN — There are those who believe when West Virginia and Clemson get together on the night of Jan. 4 in the Orange Bowl, that it’s entirely possible that there might be 100 passes thrown in the game, such is the philosophy of the coach and the skill of the quarterbacks and receivers.

But experience tells us that in athletics, when coaches have six or eight months to prepare, as it has seems WVU’s Dana Holgorsen and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney have had, they find ways to stop what the other team does best and to create an alternative attack.

In West Virginia’s case, that could mean that a heavy load could fall on the not-so-wide shoulders of freshman running back Dustin Garrison.

He certainly is the forgotten man going into this highly anticipated match up, lost in the glitter of the likes of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Steadman Bailey, Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, the stars on both teams.

Yet let it not be forgotten that no one in Division I college football had a better running day than did Garrison, who against Bowling Green rushed for 291 yards ... an effort that seemingly came out of nowhere.

In truth, Garrison had carried the football only 13 times in the first four games of the season, accumulating 65 yards ... barely enough yardage to be considered a good reception for Bailey.

Then boom! Thirty-two carries and 291 yards, the second greatest rushing day in WVU history, and there have been a few guys named White and Slaton and Wilson and Ford and Cobourne and Devine and Zereoue who have toted the ball at this school.

In some ways you might consider it a freak performance, for the same back had 38 carries in the next three games and totaled just 161 yards. In fact, it was the same Dustin Garrison who carried 13 times at Cincinnati for just 19 yards, 1.5 yards a carry.

So which is the real Dustin Garrison?

“It just depends on what the game is like, what defense they are playing,” this modest freshman out of Texas by way of New Orleans, courtesy of Hurricane Katrina, said. “You sometimes have a good game or a bad game, but what matters is how you handle it.”

If that attitude doesn’t seem to jell with the trash-talking, TD-dancing athletic society that has developed along with high-definition TV, it may be because Dustin Garrison is a kid cut from a different cloth.

You wonder, for example, who his idol was, which back he modeled his style after.

His answer is almost shocking, so unprepared are you for it.

“To be honest, I never watched a lot of football,” he said.

Kids sit around and play Madden, they watch the NFL, college. They dream of great players and great runs in their sleep.

And here’s the Mountaineers’ top running back and he tells you this.

“I didn’t watch any football. I’m not a fan, I guess.”

When his position coach, Robert Gillespie, was told that, he almost didn’t know how to react.

“He wants me to watch more football, watch more running backs and see how they run. It has helped me a lot,” he said.

Now, of course, you wonder if he wasn’t watching football, what was he watching? “American Idol”? PBS? The Cooking Channel?

“I was probably asleep,” he said.

Considering the season it is now, with bowl games almost daily, with NFL games coming at you and the playoffs ahead, Garrison is going to keep an eye on the likes of the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice or the Steelers’ Rashard Mendenhall.

Make no doubt, though, that the chances of Garrison being a key component in the WVU bowl offense are good because Dana Holgorsen is smart enough to know that you just can’t beat anyone by only throwing the ball.

“Whenever we have a good running game it helps the passing game,” Garrison said. “Those backers scoot up a little bit, along with those corners and safeties.”

And when the backers and corners and safeties start worrying about stopping the run, that’s when you know Bailey and Austin are going to turn on the afterburners and scorch the defense.

Garrison finished the year with 792 yards, averaging 5.5 yards a carry. While he could not match the 8.6 yards that Devine averaged per carry as a freshman or the 7.3 White averaged, he matched Slaton’s 5.5 and was ahead of Wilson’s 5.4, Cobourne’s 5.1 and Zereoue’s 4.7.

Considering that now he has an idea how other players run, he figures to build on that as the seasons go by and would like nothing better than to get it started in the Orange Bowl, although he understands his role.

“I just do what I can to help out the team. That’s all that matters, no matter if I get five carries or 32 carries,” he said.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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