Dustin Garrison, one of the platoon of freshman running backs vying for playing time, might be the smallest of the Mountaineers in the backfield, but that hasn't stopped him from coming up big for WVU this year. Against Norfolk State, Garrison sparked West Virginia's second half rally with a 36-yard reception on a seam route, and backed it up with another first down run on the next play. Two weeks later, against LSU, Garrison entered the game and again was immediately effective. He finished the night with 10 carries for 46 yards and a score, and added four catches for another 26 yards.
After the game, Garrison was asked if he was ready for an increased role in the offense.
"I think I am, and I think I can help the team," the soft-spoken Texan said. "I'd be ready for that."
Garrison wasn't lobbying for more playing time, or boasting about his accomplishments. He was simply acknowledging that he believes he can carry a bigger load in the Mountaineer offense – one that is looking for help in the running game.
Although numbers don't always tell the story, Garrison's stats to date support the idea that he might be due for a turn in the starting lineup, or at least more carries and targeted passes. Despite not seeing the ball in the win over Maryland and getting just two passes thrown his way against Marshall, he has recorded the best rushing average on the team (5.0 yards per carry) and has produced two or the Mountaineers' six rushing touchdowns. Considering West Virginia's paucity of rushing production (76.5 yards per game with an average of 2.7 yards per carry, Garrison's productivity suggests that he might be at least a partial solution to the problems with the ground attack.
Many of those issues are arising from simple inexperience. WVU's backs have demonstrated an noticeable lack of patience on many running plays, often lowering their heads and barreling into teammates and defenders alike rather than waiting for blocks to develop. In their eagerness to run hard and show their toughness, they have, at times, ended plays before they have a chance to unfold. Garrison hasn't been immune to those problems, but he has also been the best at reading blocks and making the correct decision on cuts, and on pressing blocks and getting around defenders.
Where the freshman back really shines, however, is in the passing game. Garrison looks to be, by far, the most accomplished receiver at the position. He catches the ball cleanly and naturally, and immediately gets back into running mode after making the catch. His nine catches put him fifth on the team – no mean feat for a squad that has completed 125 passes to 12 different receivers this year.
Overall, Garrison has been the most productive back so far this year, in terms of both total yardage and yards per play. When viewed through the prism of statistics, he would seem to be an obvious candidate for increased time. Head coach Dana Holgorsen, who has shown no hesitation to swap players in and out of the lineup, was non-committal when asked about Garrison's showing, but the safe bet is that the Texan will get more work in practice this week.
"He did some good things," Holgorsen said after the LSU loss.
That might not sound like the most ringing of endorsements, but there's no way that Holgorsen and running backs coach Robert Gillespie haven't notices the lift and productivity provided by Garrison so far. Of course, there are other aspects to playing the position that aren't as noticeable to observers, and it may well be that Garrison needs as much or more work in those than other backs on the squad. For now, however, with the pressing need for more yardage out of the backfield, he seems like the obvious choice.