Dustin Garrison is part of highly regarded trio of true freshman running backs who entered fall camp expecting to compete for the starting "A" back role in Dana Holgorsen's offense. Vernard Roberts got a head start when he enrolled early and Andrew Buie got more recruiting attention and has battled a few injuries, but Garrison has emerged (thus far) as the most dependable runner in the Mountaineer stable.
Garrison comes to West Virginia by way of Pearland, TX, where his family relocated from Louisiana to escape the devastation of hurricane Katrina. During his senior season he led the Pearland Oilers to the Texas class 5A state championship with an undefeated 16-0 season. His final high school season was highlighted by 2842 rushing yards and 46 touchdowns which earned him the Houston Chronicle's All-Greater Houston Offensive Player of the Year award among many others.
Like other true freshman vying for playing time before him, notably Steve Slaton, it took Garrison a couple of games into the season to make the most of his chances. His first glimpse of action in the Norfolk St. game, Garrison showed he could be a running and receiving threat, averaging 6.3 yards per carry and 17 yards per catch respectively, finishing with 70 all purpose yards on the day.
By the time LSU rolled into town, Garrison was playing as the feature back and managed 48 yards on 10 carries against the Tigers. More opportunities were needed to show what he could do, but they were limited, as the late game score situation necessitated more passing.
Then Bowling Green came into town...
The freshman from Texas got the ball early and often as he rolled up 223 yards rushing...by halftime. Just when it looked as if he would get a chance to break Kay Jay Harris' school record, Garrison was pulled from action after totaling 291 yards on the ground. Even after Garrison's big day, Coach Gillespie wasn't going to let the gaudy numbers get to Garrison's head:
“The first thing I said was, ‘You put the ball on the ground too many times,’ ” Gillespie said.
The praise followed.
“My job is to critique and correct,” Gillespie said. “Neither of those is fun, but my job isn’t to pat them on the butt. My job is to get them better and once we get that right, we find the next thing to get better.”
Garrison followed up the record (for a freshman) tying effort with a solid effort against Connecticut with 84 yards on 18 carries. During the Syracuse debacle, Garrison did run the ball decently, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Coach Holgorsen admitting that he should have run the ball more against the Orange is a testament to Garrison's effectiveness.
Whether or not Garrison can ever reach those gaudy, record numbers he achieved against Bowling Green again is not for certain. What is for certain is that he has solidified himself in the Mountaineer offense, displaying a knack for catching the ball when needed and, more importantly, giving Coach Holgorsen a reliable option to carry the ball and keep defenses honest. Ball security will be at a premium tomorrow against a Rutgers defense that thrives on turnovers.
It will be fun to watch Garrison develop over the next few years. I for one, am anxious to see what he will do against the Big 12 defenses (assuming WVU can escape the Big East in a timely fashion).
You can also discuss Dustin Garrison, his contributions to the Mountaineers and his future outlook further over at BlueGoldNews.com.