The Times West Virginian

October 2, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Ground game gets going behind frosh

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — It was a day that, in a way, made you think back to the kind of football they used to play, back in the Woody Hayes era, the Bo Schembechler era, the Don Nehlen era.

It was wet with a cold north wind whipping through a stadium that had crammed 62,000 people in a week earlier for LSU but that now seemed half empty with 46,063 huddled masses yearning to be warm and dry inside.

The opponent this time was not a glamor team like the Tigers from down on the Bayou, but the Bowling Green Falcons, a nice Mid-America Conference opponent who came to town meaning no harm and did none as they obliged by dropping a 55-10 decision ... the last 52 points of the game belonging to West Virginia University.

But if WVU filled the air with footballs in losing to LSU, a night when Geno Smith set the school record with 463 passing yards, this was a day when it was best to hug the ground rather than toss a slippery football all over creation.

Enter as unlikely a hero as West Virginia has ever had, a true freshman who would admit he wasn’t even informed by the coaches that he was starting, who surmised it because he was running with the No. 1 unit in practice this week and in pre-game.

Dustin Garrison’s West Virginia career consisted of 13 carries for 65 yards in four games, hardly the kind of stuff that would lead you to believe he was sitting on the second-greatest rushing game in Mountaineer history.

In truth, he had not even been asked to carry the football against Maryland, something that may have been discouraging to another freshman. But Garrison had talked to the folks back home in Pearland, Texas.

“My mom’s always looking out for me. She told me to keep my head up, that I’ll get my chance,” he said.

And that chance came after he had an excellent week of practice, a week he had gone into as the front-runner for the starting job but not so secure that he could not play himself out of it.

“He had a good game last week, and he worked hard this week, asked a lot of great questions, watched film, practiced hard, and he prepared himself to make good runs in the game,” running backs coach Robert Gillespie said.

But as good as that week of practice was, no one could have imagined what was about to transpire.

By the end of the first quarter, Garrison had produced 85 rushing yards, 20 more than his career total. By halftime it had increased to — get this — 233 yards, more rushing yards than any freshman had ever run for in school history.

At the end of the third quarter the game was a rout and his yardage was up to 260 with a couple of touchdowns. Now they were thinking about Kay-Jay Harris and his school-record of 337 rushing yards against East Carolina in 2004.

He failed to get there, probably more because of the score of the game than anything Bowling Green ever did to stop him.

“He could have run for another 200 yards probably,” Gillespie said.

He carried the ball 32 times, which certainly was enough for someone who stands 5-8 and weighs 175.

“Hats off to him,” Gillespie said. “For a guy to carry 30 times, especially for his size, that says a lot about him. I’m proud of him.”

As it was he settled for 291 yards, which tied Monongah’s Kerry Marbury for the second-most productive rushing afternoon in the school’s history. Marbury did it 40 years ago against Temple.

So it was when it was over, someone asked him during his post-game press conference if he knew who Kerry Marbury is. He smiled and said, “Naw.”

That same someone said, “I guess you don’t know who Kay-Jay Harris is, either?”

“Naw,” he answered, again with that smile.

Patrick White he knew.

Today, we suspect, all three of them have heard of Dustin Garrison.

Garrison’s emergence, allowing WVU to go from a team that could manage only 306 rushing yards in the first four games to a team that rushed for 360 yards in this one, gave a whole different look to the offense.

All of a sudden, they not only were running, but the line was blowing people off the ball and the run selections leaned more toward power football from the Hayes, Schembechler, Nehlen era than to the trickery they had been running.

“We’ve been doing that since Day 1,” coach Dana Holgorsen maintained. “We’ve been playing a lot of two-back and three-back stuff. We encourage them to come down and stop the run because that’s when the big plays happen in your pass game.”

But they hadn’t been doing this, once even running a student-body left for a touchdown.

To anyone schooled on real football rather than what had been passing as some sort of computer game version of it, this was a turning moment in Holgorsen’s coaching days at WVU. Now, with a run game and a runner to complement the passing game, the sky becomes the limit.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.