West Virginia true freshman Dustin Garrison heard the talk all preseason, and he was skeptical, right up to the very end.
As one of the three true freshman running backs — Andrew Buie and Vernard Roberts being the others — brought in by coach Dana Holgorsen, he heard how the three and sophomore Trey Johnson were all going to play.
For a guy who had 406 carries for 2,842 yards last year as a high school player at Pearland (Texas) High, he wondered.
“Honestly, I thought about it,” Garrison said Saturday after WVU’s 55-12 pasting of Norfolk State, in a game WVU trailed 12-10 at the half. “All offseason coach was saying we were all going to play and I wondered about it. We were all getting a chance to compete. But so far, it’s been good. You just have to make the most of the chance when you get it.”
Garrison did just that.
On two straight plays he netted 49 yards (36 on a pass play and 13 on a run, the longest run by a Mountaineer in the game and the second longest of the season, next to a scramble by quarterback Geno Smith against Marshall) and set up WVU’s second TD of the second half.
On the third series, he scored his first career touchdown.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Garrison, who had 46 touchdowns last year at Pearland. “I was talking to Vern(ard Roberts) last week about his touchdown last week and he was talking about how he’ll never forget it. I know what he was thinking. It’s a great feeling.”
Holgorsen said Saturday he felt like Garrison gave the team a lift with his play and that Roberts probably ran the hardest of the three (and finished with 64 yards and a touchdown).
The ground game, which had just 102 yards on 33 carries Saturday, is still making the coach unhappy.
“Our running game was not good,” Holgorsen said. “We’re usually targeted right, but we’re not finishing blocks. It’s not what we want right now and we have to get better. I thought Dustin Garrison gave us a spark when he went in there in the third quarter. I’d say Vernard ran the hardest. We need to study it a little bit more.”
Garrison caught three passes for 51 yards and had three runs for 19 yards.
“I thought I did OK,” Garrison said. “I didn’t get in much in the first half, so I just tried to stay loose so I’d be ready when my number was called.”
Another freshman who won’t forget the game is quarterback Paul Millard, who came in midway through the fourth quarter.
He finished 5 for 6 passing for 60 yards and his first TD, a 30-yard strike to Brad Starks on fourth-and-10 with 4:13 left.
“I was pretty hyped up, I started sprinting down the field,” Millard said.
He talked about his thoughts at the moment.
“I thought about all kinds of stuff,” he said. “My mom in the stands, my dad, who is in a better place.”
Millard’s father passed away shortly after the player enrolled early at WVU last spring.
“My dad was a man of few words,” Millard said. “I know he would have been happy. He probably would say, ‘You played great.’ But I know one thing that got him fired up was watching me play football.”
Millard said he has learned a lot from watching Smith run the offense.
“The great thing about our offense is that it is what it is,” Millard said. “When I get in the game, I run the same stuff Geno does. He is a great player.”
He said he still kids Smith that he is going to take his job.
“I don’t really mean I’m coming for his job, I just think it’s important for the backup to try to push the starter,” Millard said. “Someday when I’m the starter I hope the backup comes in and pushes me. That’s what I try to do. I think it makes us both better.”
In fact, the two have become good friends.
“I was happy for Paul to get in there and throw his first touchdown,” Smith said. “He’ll always remember that. That first touchdown is special.”
The defense has continued to play well, bending but not breaking. WVU has given up six field goals and no touchdowns in two games.
“We gave them too many yards in the first half and part of that was offensively; we put them on the field a lot,” Holgorsen said. “We are more comfortable right now with our defensive scheme than our offensive scheme. We need to get three-and-outs and create turnovers and we aren’t doing that right now.”
After surrendering 242 yards in the first half Saturday, WVU’s defense gave up just 43 in the second half.
The Mountaineers’ game with Maryland at noon Saturday will be televised by ESPNU.
— E-mail: demorrison@