MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Five games into the season No. 16 West Virginia looks like a balanced team as it gets ready to start Big East play Saturday.
The Mountaineers (4-1) took a critical step forward on offense Saturday, rushing for 360 yards against Bowling Green. They had depended mostly on their passing game in four previous contests.
Defensively West Virginia also had a breakout day Saturday, intercepting three passers and recovering two fumbles while allowing no points after the first quarter.
It was the team's most complete game of the season.
"The Big East is going to be tough, we've got to prepare for the punches they throw at us," quarterback Geno Smith said. "Overall, I think we're going to be ready and are excited to get Big East play started."
First up in conference play is Connecticut (2-3) a team that plays a possession-oriented offense.
The Huskies, which have the nation's 92nd-ranked offense (342 total yards per game), lost to Western Michigan, 38-31, Saturday, giving up 479 yards passing.
After Connecticut, the Mountaineers have an off week followed by Syracuse, Rutgers, Louisville, Cincinnati, Pitt and South Florida.
"One thing that makes me very happy is that we played very smart," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We got a week better and are getting ready to move onto Big East play."
The Mountaineers have the 14th-ranked offense in the country, averaging 496 yards per game. West Virginia has the sixth-ranked passing offense, putting up 362 points a game.
But getting a solid rushing performance from freshman Dustin Garrison is something the Mountaineers have needed. In four previous games, they had rushed for a combined 306 yards.
Garrison rushed for 291 yards against the Falcons, setting West Virginia's single-game rushing record by a freshman.
"I believe we're going to continue to run the ball," Smith said. "We're about being balanced, but we'll take what they give us. They decide to play nickel coverage the entire game we'll run the ball at 'em.
"At the end of the day it comes down to us going out there and executing."
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie was thrilled Garrison was able to make things happen on the ground.
"He was able to make people miss," Gillespie said. "I challenge him all the time: 'I want you to be the Dustin from Texas that played 5A ball and carried the ball almost 500 times. Be a physical back.' I was impressed to see him get some tough yards after contact."
West Virginia had a banner day getting two interceptions from defensive back Keith Tandy and a third from Terence Garvin.
"That was good to see," defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said. "If you look real close we could've had a few more."
The defense gave up 10 first quarter points, but none after that yielding just 217 yards for the game. The defense recovered a pair of fumbles, sacked Bowling Green quarterback Matt Schilz twice and had five tackles for loss.
Special teams play improved a bit, but the kickoff coverage unit gave up 258 yards.
NOTES -- The Big East said Sunday it will pursue new members, the decision coming in the wake of the departures of Pitt and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference. "The Presidents voted unanimously to authorize the commissioner [John Marinatto] to aggressively pursue discussions with a select number of institutions that have indicated a strong interest in joining the [Big East]," conference officials said in a statement issued after the presidents met in Washington, D.C. "The presidents are also actively considering changes to the conference's governing bylaws to further solidify the membership of the conference." ... To counter the fast tempo of the West Virginia offense, players have said they believe opponents are faking injuries to slow things down. The issue came up against LSU last week, and reared its head again against Bowling Green. "They were faking injuries which is, you know, a bunch of baloney," Smith said. "It's something that comes with the territory. The refs can't do anything about it."
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com or 412-263-1959.