- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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For a player who was barely recruited out of high school, Dustin Garrison is coming up big for West Virginia.
Garrison has emerged from a trio of freshmen running backs after a 291-yard performance against Bowling Green last week in his first career start. But Garrison started showing serious flashes in the second half against LSU. His 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of that game brought the Mountaineers to within six.
In the last two games, Garrison has gotten 42 combined carries -- compared to three in the first three games. All three of those came against Norfolk State.
"It's hard when you have so many guys to get a guy into a rhythm, but there's nothing you can do about that," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "You have to tell those guys to take advantage of the opportunities they've had. The last six quarters, Dustin has been able to get in there and get on a roll. The more we gave it to him, the better he's gotten."
Garrison remained patient through the first several games of the season, even after he got zero carries against Marshall and Maryland. He had shown his ability as a receiver out of the backfield, but wanted to make sure the coaches knew what he could do when he got his hands on the ball. His mom told him before every game to just wait. He would get his chance.
Once he got his opportunity against Bowling Green, he was not going to let anything stop him.
"It was hard for a while just waiting for my chance, but once I finally got it, I knew I had to show them I could make things happen," Garrison said in a phone interview.
Garrison ran for 233 yards in the first half, a school record. Neither he nor his teammates had any idea he had surpassed 200 yards in the half. It was only as they were headed to the locker room that they realized what he had done.
"It was great," Garrison said. "I never had the ball like that since high school, so it was like déjà vu. I had to go out there and make plays. It was a great feeling going out there and making people miss and things like that."
As a senior at Pearland (Texas) High, Garrison set school single-season records with 406 carries for 2,842 yards and 46 touchdowns. He also added 36 catches for 595 yards and five touchdowns.
But no scholarship offers came. Schools were concerned about his size: 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds. It was not until Robert Gillespie, then an assistant with Oklahoma State, called to say he was moving on to a new opportunity and they wanted Garrison with him.
The new opportunity was at West Virginia with Holgorsen.
"These last two games helped my confidence a lot," Garrison said. "It lets me know I could make things happen. A lot of people told me I wouldn't play college ball, that I was too small. Not just this week but last week in the LSU game, it's great to know I've proven a lot of people wrong, to be able to make things happen offensively."
But it was not only Garrison. The play of the entire offensive line improved against Bowling Green. West Virginia had been one of the worst rushing teams in the nation before his performance, ranking No. 115 with an average of 76.5 yards a game. Starting guard Tyler Rader said coaches stressed the importance of being able to finish blocks in the week leading up to the Bowling Green game. But he also mentioned that Garrison does an exceptional job of not only reading blocks, but setting them up as well.
"That's something special," Rader said. "You can't teach that."
Now the Mountaineers face a bigger challenge against UConn on Saturday, a team that ranks No. 2 in the league in rush defense. Garrison is expected to make his second career start and hopes to keep the momentum going without thinking about what happened last week.
"The past is the past," he said. "Getting 291 yards is great and all but we've still got a game this week. You have to stay focused at practice, work hard and everything will take care of itself."