ACC: Dustin Garrison

WVU far from flawless in win over Terps

September, 22, 2012

West Virginia's offense looked unchallenged in its first two outings, racking up 69 points against Marshall in its season opener and making 42 look easy against James Madison a week ago.

Saturday? The Mountaineers didn't respond well to their first challenge of the season. The offense was held scoreless in the third quarter and was forced to punt seven times in its 31-21 win over Maryland.

The biggest reason for the struggles? It's easy to point at running back Shawne Alston's absence, but even if that's the case, West Virginia's depth at the position looks at least questionable. Alston reportedly sat with a thigh injury.

Dustin Garrison returned from an ACL injury, shedding a possible redshirt. Andrew Buie got the start in place of Alston. The duo combined for just 31 yards on 15 carries and looked underwhelming for all 60 minutes.

The explosiveness wasn't there, and the whole offense suffered because of it. The Mountaineers' lack of a running game didn't garner an ounce of respect from Maryland's defense and as a result, Geno Smith was hasseled all day. Alston's blocking prowess in the backfield was even more needed, and its absence even more apparent with Smith taking a bigger beating than he had all season. On more than one occasion, the Mountaineers' Heisman frontrunner got up and walked gingerly after taking a shot. An early injury to Ryan Clarke was another shot to WVU's backs' ability to block in the backfield.

Smith finished 30-of-43 for 338 yards and three touchdowns, going without an interception for yet another game. He joins Texas' David Ash as the Big 12's only QBs without a pick after four weeks.

Tavon Austin was the day's biggest highlight-maker, catching 12 passes for 173 yards and three scores, finishing as the school's all-time leader in receptions.

The passing game is what everyone thought it was, even with a quiet day from Stedman Bailey, who caught just seven passes for 61 yards.

Still, the running game has looked good so far this season. With Alston down, it didn't. That may get fixed.

A bigger concern? The defense gave up 302 passing yards and three touchdown passes to true freshman quarterback Perry Hills. He averaged more than 10 yards an attempt, and freshman phenom Stefon Diggs showed off his speed with 113 yards on just three catches. Two went for touchdowns, including a 56-yarder on which Diggs embarrassed the WVU defense with cutbacks.

Through three games, the defense has been unimpressive for the Mountaineers, who will face their first real tests in the next two weeks. Baylor comes to town for what should be a hyped Big 12 opener next week, followed by a trip to Texas to face the Big 12's best defense.

We know what the passing game can do when the running game is there for balance. WVU's efficiency was unmatched by anyone in the Big 12 for its first two games. But when the Mountaineers are a one-dimensional team, can its offense still be productive enough to make up for a questionable defense?

Alston's likely return gives West Virginia a chance to maintain its balance, but without that balance, the first loss of the season for West Virginia could be coming fast.

Final pregame thoughts

January, 4, 2012
MIAMI -- After a month of analyzing keys, players, depth charts and matchups it is time for West Virginia to show what it is made of in the Discover Orange Bowl against Clemson.

This could be the Mountaineers' final game as members of the Big East, so you know they want to go out on top. And as always, a good performance in this one can be used as a springboard into 2012, especially with so many stars coming back on offense.

West Virginia announced several lineup changes before the game began: Tyler Rader will start at right guard in place of Quinton Spain; Pat Eger will start at right tackle in place of Curtis Feigt; Shawne Alston will start in place of Dustin Garrison; and Ryan Clarke will be the B-back as Alston takes over for Garrison.

The starting spur safety will be a game-time decision.

The stadium looks to be about half full, but a larger contingent of Clemson fans is on hand for this game.
West Virginia is going for its first 10-win season since 2007 in the Discover Orange Bowl against Clemson tonight. Here is a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: Quarterback Geno Smith. All eyes are going to be on both quarterbacks in this game, for obvious reasons. Clemson has made it no secret this week that its No. 1 goal is to get after Smith, in order to get him out of rhythm. This, of course, would limit the number of touches for 1,000-yard receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. A few teams have been successful at getting Smith off his game, and the front Clemson brings may have that capability -- with Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson two of the more highly-rated linemen for the 2012 NFL draft. Branch had 10.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss this season, and could pose major problems. West Virginia has not been consistent on the offensive line this season, but there is some good news. The Mountaineers tend to play up to their level of competition. So getting to face a line as good as Clemson could mean an outstanding performance, which is the biggest key to getting Smith and his receivers going.

WHAT TO WATCH: West Virginia defense vs. Tajh Boyd. Much has been made about the two offenses in this game, but the defenses should not be ignored. West Virginia has made a pretty solid turnaround in the final three games of the season, allowing just 365.7 yards a game, turning up its pressure and playing much better pass defense. This group has been much more opportunistic as well. It most certainly will have to be against Clemson, a team that has fared much better in turnover margin. Tight end Dwayne Allen poses a huge threat, because he is like an extra receiver on the field, and West Virginia will be without starting safety Terence Garvin. At least the Mountaineers have experience going against an up-tempo team. Can they keep up the momentum from the end of the season?

WHY TO WATCH: Everybody loves offense, right? And everybody loves the battle for supremacy between the Big East and ACC, right? OK maybe not the latter, but there should be plenty of fireworks in this one, and plenty of NFL talent on this field. Plus, this could be West Virginia's final game as members of the Big East. If that is indeed the case, you can bet the Mountaineers will want to do nothing but go out on top.

PREDICTION: West Virginia 35, Clemson 30. Yes, I realize that West Virginia is going to be without several of its starters, including Garvin and Dustin Garrison. But I also think this is a team that found its way in the latter part of the season, and will not be denied. Simply put, West Virginia refused to lose, and every part of this team willed itself to victory against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and USF. Folks are focusing on the offenses; but West Virginia is better overall on defense and that makes the difference in this game.
MIAMI, Fla. -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen confirmed Sunday afternoon that Shawne Alston would start at running back in place of Dustin Garrison in the Discover Orange Bowl.

In his first media session since Garrison hurt his knee during practice Friday, Holgorsen said it was a disappointment not to have his true freshman running back for the game.

"I'll tell you, if we would have gave him the ball more throughout the course of the year, he'd probably be better than what he is right now to the point that he probably was going to be a 1,000-yard rusher," Holgorsen said.

Garrison ran for 742 yards and six touchdowns this season, and emerged from a trio of true freshman running backs to win the starting job. Another true freshman, Andrew Buie, is expected to get carries with Alston on Wednesday against Clemson.

Alston was the second-leading rusher on the team with 354 yards, and led the team with 10 touchdown runs. Though he is more of a power back, Alston has shown the capability this season to get the tough yards and bust through tackles.

"Shawne Alston gives us a lot of maturity as he has all year and Andrew Buie's as healthy and looks as good as he has since probably camp," says Holgorsen.

Meanwhile, the Mountaineers had another player get hurt. Redshirt freshman walk-on Connor Arlia broke his leg Saturday in a jet skiing accident during the team's beach party on Miami Beach. Arlia was a special teams contributor this season.

Orange Bowl news and notes

December, 31, 2011
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Greetings from beautiful South Florida, where West Virginia and Clemson practiced for the second day in preparation for the Discover Orange Bowl.

Mountaineers defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and select defensive players met with the media this morning, along with Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris and select offensive players.

The big story of the day, of course, were the injuries that keep mounting for West Virginia. Running back Dustin Garrison is out for the game, the third West Virginia starter to be declared out. On Casteel's side of the ball, West Virginia will be without safety Terence Garvin. Redshirt freshman Wes Tonkery and true freshman Shaq Petteway have been working the position during practice but no starter has been announced.

"We'll still work those two kids the next two or three practices, and they're both going to play," Casteel said. "That's what happens when you get an injury; a kid has to step up, and the next guy goes. I know that they're excited to play. We've been through those situations before, so those guys will be ready to go."

Eain Smith and Darwin Cook could be relied upon even more with Garvin out.

"I think the key is letting the kids get in and get settled in," Casteel said. "For some of these kids, obviously this is a big game for them. Once they get in and settle in, they're going to find it's no different than any of the other games that they've played.

"But our leaders will settle those guys down, and they'll be ready to play."

Playing with young players like Petteway and Tonkery is going to be something West Virginia will have to get through, the way it did when Garvin missed the Cincinnati game with a knee injury. Smith started in place of Garvin in that game, but the coaches don't seem to want to move him for this game.

Garvin was third on the team with 72 tackles. With the way Clemson likes to throw the ball, and the talent the Tigers have at the skill positions, they could take advantage.

"Will it change our thinking?" Morris asked. "We're going to do what we do. We've got to be able to be who we are, what got us to this point in the season. You know, we try to do a good job of mixing up the run and the pass. So are we going to change our thought process? No. And if we were, I couldn't tell you.

"So it's one of those type of deals. We feel like we've got to make sure that we do the things that got us here, protecting the football, being physical, playing physical and being aggressive. That's who we are, that's who I've been since 2002, and it's not going to change.

"You know, it's unfortunate. I heard the injury report, and that's unbelievable. I hate that for that young man. What a great football player. But again, we've got to do what's got us here to this point."

Both head coaches offered statements about the way practice, which was closed to the media, went Saturday afternoon:
  • Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said receiver DeAndre Hopkins practiced and is good to go for the game. "He’s back and it and looked fine," Swinney said. "Probably could’ve practiced yesterday, but we just wanted to have another day to evaluate him but I thought he moved around pretty good. Other than that, we’re physically in good shape, just have to mentally get dialed in."
  • West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen named his captains for the game: linebacker Najee Goode, center Joe Madsen, quarterback Geno Smith and cornerback Keith Tandy.
  • Former Mountaineers who were at practice Saturday were Grantis Bell (WR, 1985-88), Johnny Dingle (DL, 2005-07), Dale Williams (OL, 1991-93) and James “Puppy” Wright (LB, 1991-94).
  • Also in attendance at Saturday's practice was former Miami coach Randy Shannon and Florida Atlantic assistant Kurt VanValkenburgh.
  • “Practice went fine today," Holgorsen said. "We consider this our Tuesday practice so we were getting into our normal routine for the game week. The weather has been outstanding and I can see that our players are getting excited for game day. The player’s focus has been good, and they have been working hard. We are down here to win a football game, and I think our mix of preparation and fun has been good.”