MORGANTOWN, W.VA. (AP) - Bowling Green’s offense couldn’t find a rhythm and quarterback Matt Schilz spent more time scrambling than finding receivers.
With Schilz unable to thrive, the Mid-American Conference’s highest-scoring offense came to a halt at No. 22 West Virginia, losing 55-10 on Saturday.
And when West Virginia freshman running back Dustin Garrison got into a groove, Bowling Green quickly found out that it was going to be difficult slowing down both the Mountaineers’ rushing attack and the arm of quarterback Geno Smith.
“When they had success with their running game, we didn’t give them a reason not to (run),” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. “We pressured them a couple of times. It got to be: You’re going to die a quick death or a slow death?”
The most yards Bowling Green had allowed over the first four games was 396 to Wyoming. West Virginia had surpassed that by halftime.
“We couldn’t stop them,” Clawson said. “We couldn’t get off the field.”
Bowling Green was hoping to use, of all things, a significant edge in net punting to its advantage. The Falcons led the nation through the first four games with a 45.3-yard net average on punts, while West Virginia was dead last at 29.8.
But West Virginia only punted once Saturday, while Bowling Green’s Brian Schmiedebusch averaged 35.5 yards on two punts.
“One advantage we had coming into the game was the punting game,” Clawson said. “And if we could get two or three first downs, we get to midfield. Let’s force them to go 80, 90, see if they’re not patient enough to run the ball. When you gave them a short field, it made it very difficult. And we didn’t play well.”
Schilz came to Morgantown tied for the FBS lead with 14 touchdown passes. He threw for an early score but lost a fumble and was intercepted three times, twice by Keith Tandy. Schilz finished 13 of 25 for 114 yards.
He didn’t have much help available. Bowling Green’s leading rusher, Anthon Samuel, missed the game with an injured ankle, while Eugene Cooper, the team’s leading receiver, sat out with an unspecified NCAA clearinghouse issue.
“You lose a game by 45 points, to say you lost it because of two guys. That would be a stretch,” Clawson said.
Smith continued his solid season by throwing for three scores. But for the first time, the Mountaineers (4-1) found balance in their offense.
West Virginia entered the game as one of the worst rushing teams in the FBS with 306 total yards. The Mountaineers compiled 360 yards on the ground Saturday, including 291 yards and two scores from Garrison.
“I think we found a running back,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.
With the offensive line opening huge holes that had been lacking in previous games, Garrison had 233 yards by halftime and set a freshman single-game school record. He scored on runs of 19 and 8 yards in a steady rain.
His 291 yards tied for the second-highest total in school history. His 32 carries more than doubled his season total.
“The holes were there,” Garrison said. “The linemen were doing their jobs and making holes. Most of the yards that I got came from cutting off blocks that the fullbacks made.”
It marked the most rushing yards in a growing niche of high-scoring offenses led by Holgorsen, who was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State last year and at Houston the two years before that.
“To be honest with you, we were more worried about stopping the passing game,” Clawson said. “Their quarterback is excellent and they really stretch you across the field.”
The Mountaineers showed no signs of coasting between last week’s draining home loss to LSU and the upcoming Big East opener with Connecticut. West Virginia’s 643 total yards were the most in four years and the highest ever at its 31-year-old stadium.
“We told them all week to become a smarter football team,” Holgorsen said. “We had one penalty and zero turnovers. You’ve got to get up for whatever game you’re playing.”
West Virginia did, limiting Bowling Green to 14 first downs and 217 total yards. The Falcons (3-2) entered the game averaging 38.5 points.
West Virginia overcame two early miscues on special teams by scoring on five consecutive first-half drives.
Garrison fumbled the ball inside the Bowling Green 10 late in the second quarter but West Virginia lineman Tyler Rader recovered. Smith found Brad Starks in the end zone on the next play for a 38-10 halftime lead.
Smith completed 18 of 30 passes for 238 yards. His other scoring tosses were 33 yards to Ivan McCartney and 15 yards to Ryan Nehlen.
West Virginia’s special teams were awful against LSU and the problems continued early against Bowling Green.
The Falcons’ Jerry Gates fumbled away the opening kickoff that led to a West Virginia field goal, but he returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards to setting up Schilz’s 18-yard scoring toss to Ray Hutson.
Cory Smith’s 14-yard punt on West Virginia’s next possession gave the Falcons the ball at the 50. Hutson took a reverse handoff and floated a pass toward a wide open Alex Bayer, but Tandy got there just in time to break it up in the end zone. The Falcons settled for a field goal and a 10-3 lead and didn’t score again.