By JOHN RABY, AP Sports Writer
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, for one, welcomed the company.
On any other day, his three touchdown passes would have been the center of attention.
Smith got to share the headlines for a change after freshman running back Dustin Garrison came up even bigger in the rain.
The 5-foot-8 back from Pearland, Texas, rushed for 291 yards and two scores in Saturday’s 55-10 win over Bowling Green, giving the Mountaineers a needed boost to a running game that had been sorely lacking in the first four games.
The offensive balance comes just as the Mountaineers (4-1) get ready to open Big East play next Saturday at home against Connecticut (2-3).
“Dustin was doing a great job, hitting the holes, making cuts and making guys miss,” Smith said. “Overall, that’s what makes our offense so good. We can pick our poison and make (opponents) wrong at all times.”
West Virginia moved up six spots to No. 16 in The Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday, the same spot it occupied before losing to LSU a week ago.
Coach Dana Holgorsen won’t have to hear the questions anymore that had dominated the first month of the season about an overwhelming reliance on the passing game because whenever a running play was called, nothing worked.
“Five games into it, we’re happy where we’re at,” Holgorsen said, then perhaps sounding a warning to future opponents. “But we’ll get ready to continue to get better.
“It’s a work in progress. 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.”
West Virginia’s 643 yards were the most in four years and the highest ever at its 31-year-old stadium. The school record is 674 yards set against Washington & Lee in 1923.
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 against Bowling Green.
“That’s what coach Holgersen preaches, and that’s what this offense is all about,” Smith said. “We take whatever the defense gives us and today, they were keying on the pass and putting five guys in the box and we felt like we had good numbers to run it.”
Garrison’s emergence is similar to those of former WVU backs Steve Slaton and Kay-Jay Harris.
Harris was a backup in 2004 when he ran for a school-record 337-yards against East Carolina and took over the starting role from Jason Colson.
Slaton got few carries in a four-back rotation in 2005 before earning the starting job, then made his mark by rushing for 188 yards and six touchdowns against Louisville. Slaton went on to become an All-American in 2006.
Now it’s up to Garrison to prove he can be consistent in conference play and keep the offense from losing the balance it cherishes.
“I tell those guys every Saturday you get a chance to become a legend,” said West Virginia running backs coach Robert Gillespie. “(Saturday) was the first step in him showing he can make plays in this offense, and hopefully he’ll continue to do that.”
Not forgotten was the play of the defense, which before Saturday had three interceptions and no recovered fumbles.
Keith Tandy had two of West Virginia’s three interceptions against Bowling Green. Terence Garvin had the other and one of the team’s two sacks.
West Virginia limited Bowling Green to 217 total yards and now must prepare for a Connecticut team that amassed 451 yards of offense in a 38-31 loss to Western Michigan.
“One thing that makes me very happy is we played very smart,” Holgorsen said. “We got a week better and getting ready to move on to Big East play.”