WVU finally runs the ball to victory
MORGANTOWN -- When Geno Smith sat in the film room and studied the Bowling Green defense from the season's first couple games, he saw a low-risk defense with a secondary that played a bunch of zone and cornerbacks and safeties who kept their eyes on the quarterback.
When the West Virginia quarterback stood in the shotgun and studied the Falcons in Saturday's 55-10 victory, Smith saw the secondary playing man-to-man and subjecting themselves to more risk than they were accustomed to.
The explanation: Smith's 65 pass attempts and 463 yards passing the week before against LSU.
"They were keying on our pass," Smith said after going 18-for-30 for 238 yards and three touchdowns. "They were trying to match up with our receivers and play a lot of nickel coverage with our four- and five-receiver sets.
"When we'd bring our two-back sets in, they'd bring in an extra linebacker and drop their safety down to cover."
The Mountaineers, who jumped to No. 16 in the Associated Press poll, responded by running the ball 43 times with three running backs for 359 yards. Freshman Dustin Garrison set the school's freshman record with 291 yards. He averaged 9.1 yards per carry and scored twice a week after Smith set school records for passing attempts, completions and yards against the Tigers.
Smith wasn't exactly harnessed. He threw a touchdown pass in an eighth consecutive game and had a 100-yard receiver - this time Stedman Bailey, who had four catches for 112 yards - for a third straight game. WVU has seven 100-yard receivers this season.
"This was a lot easier," Smith said.
WVU ended up with a Mountaineer Field-record 643 yards of offense. Considering what Garrison and the sudden running game did to the Bowling Green defense, WVU is eager to see how Connecticut (2-3) responds in the Saturday's noon game at Mountaineer Field. It's the Big East opener for both teams.
WVU rose from No. 115 nationally in rushing offense (76.5 yards per game) to No. 76 (133.2), but the Huskies are No. 8 against the run (75.2).
"Evaluating those games is going to be tough for them," inside receivers coach Shannon Dawson said. "It'll be interesting to see how they come out play now that we've shown we do have a running game."
Garrison had 85 yards in the first quarter and 148 more in the second quarter as the Falcons (3-2) tried to figure out what to do with themselves and what to do with Smith and Garrison.
"We were more worried about the passing game," Coach Dave Clawson said.
WVU (4-1) entered the game averaging 2.7 yards per carry and 28 attempts per game. Garrison was third on the team in yards and carries behind Vernard Roberts (41 carries, 131 yards) and Andrew Buie (26 carries, 88 yards). In four games, the Mountaineers totaled 42, 102, 92 and 70 yards rushing. Smith had 1,471 yards and 182 attempts the first four games.
The Mountaineers knew where the opposing defense's focus would be after Smith's success against LSU and were just as aware the running game would have opportunities and had better make the most of them.
"It's big," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "That's why even last week, when it was a challenge to run the ball against LSU, I thought we did a pretty good job at it. We were targeted right and got 4 or 5 yards a carry, but then we got down two or three touchdowns and had to throw it a little more, but we still mixed in the run because you've got to get them to play it honest. Even if you're not doing a good job getting yards, you've got to at least attempt to do it because you've got keep them honest."
WVU played a second straight game without Buie, who started two of the first three games this season, and didn't use Roberts until the fourth quarter. Garrison carried 12 times in the first quarter and gained 42 yards on his 16th to get over 100 yards in the second quarter. He carried 24 times in the first half. The Mountaineers ran the ball 26, 33, 31 and 21 times the first four games.
Garrison finished with 291 yards - 15 fewer than the team had entering the game. Smith was increasingly effective, though, as Garrison's success changed the defense and gave the receivers chances.
"We encouraged them to come down and stop the run and that's where a lot of big plays happen in the passing game," Holgorsen said. "It got to the point we were getting 1-on-1 stuff on the outside."
Garrison gained 22 yards on back-to-back carries in the first quarter to setup a 33-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Ivan McCartney. Smith added two more touchdown passes in the second quarter and had 183 yards by halftime as the Mountaineers led 38-10.
"That's what this offense is," running backs coach Robert Gillespie said. "Everyone kind of knows we're going to sling the ball around, but they've got to know we're going to take what the defense gives us. If everyone is rushing three and dropping everyone else, we're going to run the ball. (Saturday) was good for us because to show we can run the ball."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.