MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The Bowling Green defense that No. 22 West Virginia will see Saturday afternoon at Mountaineer Field has been pretty good this season.
It ranks No. 22 in total defense, No. 35 in scoring defense and No. 11 in pass efficiency defense, all of which are valuable for the Falcons as they play the pass prone Mountaineers at 3:30 p.m. (ROOT Sports telecast).
Absent from that list is the Bowling Green rush defense, which is No. 27 and allows just 95 yards per game and is powered by the unusual 4-2-5 alignment and some pretty good defensive linemen.
It's a rare luxury for the Falcons (3-1), who were No. 112 of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams against the run in 2010 and No. 103 in 2009, both times at right around 200 yards per game for third-year Coach Dave Clawson.
Honestly, the Falcons haven't been a very good run defense through the years and the success this season belies the youth on the depth chart. Yet when Bowling Green has been good against the run, it's been a winner.
Clawson's teams are 5-0 when they allow fewer than 100 yards rushing. Just five times in 28 games, but no losses in those five games, either. This is worth mentioning because first-year Coach Dana Holgorsen has only seen his Mountaineers offense run for 100 yards once in four games this season - and that 102-yard explosion for the 115th-ranked rushing offense came against the FCS's Norfolk State, which is now 3-1 and allows 76 yards per game on the ground.
The Mountaineers (3-1) are averaging just 76.5 yards per game and 2.73 yards per carry, but feel like they approaching the breakthrough.
"I think our running game is getting there," quarterback Geno Smith said. "We had young backs and they're still young, but they're starting to see it quicker now. This game is faster and we tend to forget that. Those guys didn't expect to have that weight on their shoulders, but we're starting to see them hit holes faster and run harder now."
WVU gained 70 yards and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in the most recent game, which was a 47-21 loss, but a 47-21 loss to one of the best defenses in the country.
Optimism was generated in those 22 carries against No. 1 LSU, in those 65 pass attempts that never once resulted in a sack, in that time the offense hurried up throughout a drive that ended with Dustin Garrison's 1-yard touchdown run.
When the Mountaineers lined up for the extra point, center Joey Madsen looked down along the line of scrimmage and saw the Tigers breathing heavy and fighting for deep breaths.
"We were fine," he said.
If the offense can play with a high tempo, if the running backs can turn rare carries into purposeful plays, if Smith can pass without duress, then the offensive linemen are doing their jobs. That's what they took out of a performance hailed as "fantastic" by Smith and Holgorsen.
"It's validation," Madsen said. "We always knew we had it in us. We had to prove it and we came out and proved it."
WVU will gauge success running the ball differently now than it has with past coaches.