Column - Consistent run game could make WVU deadly
Published: Sunday, October 2, 2011
Updated: Sunday, October 2, 2011 23:10
There haven't been many times when the West Virginia football team went into a season without a sure answer of who its starting running back would be.
For years, the Mountaineers always knew they would have somebody like Steve Slaton or Noel Devine in the backfield every year. But that wasn't the case heading into Saturday's game against Bowling Green.
West Virginia had four backs who were playing well, but none of them were separating from the rest of the pack.
As a whole, the running game was averaging just 2.7 yards per carry through the first four games, and there wasn't a lot of consistency from any of the four who were rotating in and out of the game.
When freshman Dustin Garrison led the way against LSU and ran for 46 yards on 10 carries, it looked like there was a chance he could be "the one" the coaching staff had been looking for to step up and assume that role as the main ball carrier.
And then Saturday happened.
Any questions about who could handle taking over seemed to be answered following Garrison's performance, which will be remembered for a long time.
The combination of Garrison and junior running back Shawne Alston could be just what this team needs to move forward this year.
They complement each other extremely well. Garrison does most of the work, making the most of his patience, field vision and spectacular ability to make cuts, causing defenders to miss him and help get West Virginia down the field, and then Alston does the dirty work in the red zone.
It's a classic "thunder and lightning" scenario that has been seen so much in football.
"Whenever we run the ball and we're getting hit, we're just bouncing right back up and we're ready to make another play," Garrison said. "Whenever he's tired, I'm there for him and it all works out."
Now that the Mountaineers actually have somebody they can trust to handle the majority of the carries, things could begin looking even more dynamic for an offense that has already been pretty good all season.
Even after games like LSU, which the Mountaineers put on a great performance offensively, head coach Dana Holgorsen described the unit as "a work in progress."
Truthfully, I didn't buy it – mostly because I didn't know how much better they could get.
Geno Smith and the receivers have been doing a great job of moving the ball through the air, and the running game had been doing well enough to at least keep WVU in close games and provide a decent complement to what the passing attack can do.
But now it can be even better. Teams are going to be forced to play the Mountaineers honest, ready to stop either the run or the pass.
Even senior linebacker Najee Goode said after the game that, if he was a defensive coordinator, he wouldn't know how he would go about making a game plan to stop – or even just slow down – this WVU offense.
And the fact is, I don't know how you'd do it either.
Of course, you have to be ready to stop the pass, because that's what this team is best at. At the same time, defenses are going to need to put some more people in the box to stop the run now that WVU has shown it can have a solid running game.
That's what's so interesting about this team.
Against LSU, it looked like this was going to be an offense that relied almost solely on the passing game. Against Bowling Green it looked like a group that can be incredibly balanced.
When a team doesn't know what to key on, it's difficult to slow down. That's why this WVU offense is as good as it is.
Saturday's game showed what it can be like when the Mountaineers are clicking on everything offensively. Will they throw for almost 500 yards every game? Probably not.
Will Garrison ever run for 291 yards again? Probably not.
But if it can keep that balance up throughout the rest of the year, Big East defenses will probably not be able to stop the Mountaineers.