True freshman Dustin Garrison turned in one of the great rushing performances in school history, setting a school record for yards in a half before finishing with 291, and the No. 22 Mountaineers crushed Bowling Green 55-10 in Morgantown on Homecoming Saturday.
Garrison, making his first career start at “A” running back, staked his claim to hold that job on a permanent basis in an explosive first half. He had 233 rushing yards and a touchdown by halftime on 24 attempts -- a staggering 9.7 yards per carry average.
That half alone was good enough to rank sixth on the all-time single game rushing list at WVU. It was the strongest individual rushing performance in a half in program history.
Garrison added to the tally in the second half, finishing with 291 yards on the ground. That tied Kerry Marbury’s performance in a 1971 win over Temple for the second-most rushing yards by a player in a single game in WVU history. He was 46 yards shy of Kay-Jay Harris’ school record of 337, set in the 2004 season-opener against East Carolina.
“I think we found a running back,” Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen said in a classic bit of understatement.
“If you look at 16 games of his high school film last year (at Pearland High in Texas), it’s like that. He’s used to 200-yard games. The more you give it to him, the more he plays, the better gets. He’s patient, and his vision is a little better.”
While Garrison stole the show, his supporting actors weren’t shabby either.
West Virginia tallied 419 yards of offense by the intermission -- better than nine full games from the 2010 season. It led 38-10 at the break, added another 17 points in the final 30 minutes while its defense locked down its opposition.
It didn’t always look like it would be so easy.
During the first quarter, Bowling Green (3-2) ran a trick play on first-and-goal from WVU’s 9-yard line and had an open receiver in the end zone. But the pass from wide receiver Ray Hutson fluttered in the air for too long, allowing cornerback Keith Tandy to close ground and break up the pass, preventing the Falcons from taking an early 14-3 lead.
Player of the Game
Instead, BGSU coach Dave Clawson sent on the field goal unit, and his team’s advantage was only 10-3.
The hosts responded authoritatively. They scored on eight of their next nine drives -- including seven touchdowns -- to quickly end any thoughts of an upset.
Ivan McCartney hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass. Shawne Alston ran in from eight yards out. Ryan Nehlen scored his first career touchdown, catching a 15-yard Geno Smith pass in the end zone. Garrison sandwiched scoring runs of 19 and eight yards around a 6-yard Brad Starks touchdown reception.
All told, WVU scored 52 unanswered points to end things, sending most of the crowd of 46,603 (the smallest at Milan Puskar Stadium since a 2003 game against Temple, played in snowy conditions, drew only 35,942) to the exits to escape a miserably cold, rainy day in Morgantown.
Those who left by halftime didn’t miss much, as the second half was more of the same.
West Virginia (4-1) stretched its lead to 48-10 in the third quarter (scoring a touchdown on an 8-yard dash by Garrison, who was almost untouched). Smith, the team’s junior starter at quarterback, was able to watch the final period from the sidelines.
Player of the Game
Two pass break-ups
Even the reserves found success, as second-string quarterback Paul Millard’s first play from scrimmage was a 45-yard completion to Stedman Bailey. Shawne Alston added his second touchdown of the day on Millard’s first drive at the controls to set the final margin at 55-10.
WVU’s 643 yards of total offense were a stadium record, besting the 627 the 2001 squad put up in an 80-7 throttling of Rutgers.
“A lot of people want instant results, but the reality of it is it takes snaps to be good at it,” Holgorsen said. “Five games into it, we’re happy ... and we are getting better.”
Garrison finished with 9.1 yards per carry, picking up his 291 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. He had a long run of 42 yards. Alston added another 49 rushing yards on only eight attempts.
Smith completed 18 of 30 passes for 238 yards and three scores. Stedman Bailey had 112 receiving yards on four grabs.
For BGSU, Matt Schilz had a rough outing. He was 13-of-25 passing for 114 yards and a touchdown, but was picked off three times (twice by WVU’s Keith Tandy) and sacked twice. Jamel Martin carried 23 times for 111 yards.
The Mountaineers’ non-conference portion of the schedule is behind them. Big East play begins for Holgorsen’s squad with a game against UConn on Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.
But while WVU will move on to that contest on Sunday, it was content to savor the win on Saturday.
“I just told them downstairs, ‘Don’t ever take a victory for granted,’” Holgorsen said. “We earned this one.”