UConn-West Virginia Preview
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen appears to have the go-to running back he's been looking for.
Complemented with one of the nation's top quarterbacks, that could mean trouble for the rest of the Big East.
The 16th-ranked Mountaineers open conference play at home against Connecticut on Saturday, trying to avenge last year's ugly loss.
Since his arrival in Morgantown, Holgorsen has been preaching a balanced offense. However, in West Virginia's first four games, the Mountaineers (4-1) relied heavily on quarterback Geno Smith, who stepped up with the team lacking a ground game. He ranks fifth in the FBS in passing yards with 341.8 per game.
Holgorsen may have found the missing piece in freshman Dustin Garrison, who ran for 291 yards - tied for second-most in school history - and two touchdowns in a 55-10 win over Bowling Green on Saturday.
Led by Garrison, the Mountaineers finished with 360 yards on the ground - their most since they tallied 376 in a win over Louisville on Nov. 22, 2008. They had entered the game with 306 rushing yards.
"Dustin was doing a great job, hitting the holes, making cuts and making guys miss,'' said Smith, who completed 18 of 30 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns. "Overall, that's what makes our offense so good. We can pick our poison and make (opponents) wrong at all times."
Garrison had rushed for 65 yards in his previous two games, and he didn't play in West Virginia's win over Maryland on Sept. 17.
"The game has definitely slowed down a lot since Day One," Garrison said. "I think it's showing. I'm seeing the holes a lot faster and hitting them a lot faster. I'm coming off blocks and running defenders into blocks, things like that. It reminds me of high school."
If West Virginia can get similar performances going forward, it will be favorites to win the Big East.
"Five games into it, we're happy where we're at," Holgorsen said. "But we'll get ready to continue to get better.
"It's a work in progress. A lot of people are getting aggravated by me saying that. A lot of people want instant results, but the reality of it is it takes snaps to be good at it."
The Mountaineers tripped early in Big East play last year, losing two of their first three conference games, including a 16-13 loss at Connecticut on Oct. 29 in which they fumbled away the ball four times.
Connecticut (2-3) has shown some offensive explosiveness of its own, but it has also been inconsistent. The Huskies are coming off a 38-31 loss to Western Michigan on Saturday.
UConn had 451 yards of offense, including 300 passing, but it gave up 479 passing yards and 490 overall.
The Huskies took the lead on Johnny McEntee's 26-yard pass to Nick Williams with 2:03 left, but a late potential game-tying drive ended at the Western Michigan 13-yard line with 45 seconds left on a fumble by Ryan Griffin.
Despite the loss, the game provided a confidence boost for McEntee. The walk-on quarterback struggled over the first four weeks, averaging 153.4 passing yards while completing 47.8 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and four interceptions.
It was the first time the Huskies had 300 passing yards since Oct. 31, 2009.
"I think I'm a little big more confident in our offense," he said. "We played well today and we were performing right down until the last minute."
The Huskies have blown fourth-quarter leads in all three of their losses.
"They've played some good football teams," Holgorsen told the Mountaineers' official website. "Every snap I've seen out of UConn has been very competitive."
The Huskies' win over West Virginia last year was their first in seven meetings. The Mountaineers are 3-0 in Morgantown.