MORGANTOWN - When Dustin Garrison and West Virginia's rushing attack finally broke through in a big way last week, it seemingly opened a whole new set of doors through which the Mountaineers can now game plan their offense.No longer does coach Dana Holgorsen have to depend almost entirely on throwing the football to gain yards and score points. He can take a more balanced approach now that he apparently has more weapons at his disposal.So when No. 16 West Virginia (4-1) hosts Connecticut (2-3) at noon Saturday in the Big East opener for both schools, things will change, right?Wrong.
"It doesn't change how we game plan,'' Holgorsen said. "Every game we've gone into we've gone in with running plays we felt like were going to work - the best way to attack how they line up and what they like to do is by running these select plays.''The point is, the running game was always in the game plan. The trouble was it didn't really work until last week.When Garrison ran 32 times for 291 yards and the Mountaineers gained 360 yards on the ground in that 55-10 rout of Bowling Green, it was not something that was planned any more than it was planned against Marshall or Norfolk State, against Maryland or LSU."We go into every game looking at the same things,'' Holgorsen said. "But it's like I've said since the day I got here. If we do it and it looks like crap, we probably won't do it as much. But if we hand the ball off and we're fitting it up right and they're hitting the hole and making people miss, then he's probably going to carry 32 times.''There is no question, though, that what West Virginia did last week with the ground game will alter some things, even if it is just the way opposing teams choose to defend the Mountaineers' offense.
It certainly changed the outlook of UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni."The system they're in is obviously difficult enough to defend,'' Pasqualoni said. "And when you're able to run the ball like that it just makes it so much harder to defend.''How West Virginia got to the point where an explosion like last week's was possible was due to a lot of different factors. Holgorsen has talked all season about the week-by-week improvement of the offensive line. Garrison finally emerged from a three-way battle among true freshmen at tailback. And Shawne Alston, who had 49 yards and two touchdowns against Bowling Green, is finally healthy and provides a big-back alternative.Still, no one is feeling as if the running game has arrived. This week will provide an entirely new set of challenges in a UConn defense that is eighth in the country against the run."I'm never going to feel like we arrived anywhere,'' Holgorsen said. "That's not how we coach around here, and when you think you have figured things out, you'll get humbled pretty quickly."We're happy with the performance, but we've closed the book on Bowling Green and we're not going to ever revisit it. [This week is] all about Connecticut and what we have to do to schematically figure out how to be successful on all three sides of the ball.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org