Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Green's five things to watch for in Saturday's Tennessee/West Virginia game

Photo Credit: Peter G. Aiken- Getty Images

Another season is on the horizon as the Tennessee Volunteers and the No. 17 West Virginia Mountaineers meet up in a neutral site at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. on Saturday. Here are my five things to watch for in this SEC-Big 12 encounter.

1) Heisman Hype:

Plenty of preseason hype has been thrusted upon West Virginia quarterback Will Grier and gets the opportunity to stand out early against a familiar foe in Tennessee. Grier’s history against Tennessee has been kind as he engineered a 13-point comeback while at Florida, highlighted by a 63-yard touchdown reception to wide receiver Antonio Callaway on fourth-and-14 in a 28-27 win on Sept. 26, 2015.

After being suspended for a year for performance-enhancing drugs, Grier revived his collegiate career at West Virginia last season and did not disappoint as he threw for 3,490 yards, to go along with 34 TD’s and 12 interceptions.

Grier looks to take West Virginia’s top-15 passing offense from last season and elevate things to another level and exceed the average of 34.5 points per game from 2017.

2) A bevy of experience on WVU’s offensive line:

The identity of West Virginia’s offensive line over the past two decades has been built around smaller players, which left the majority of its quarterbacks on an island, if protection faltered.

However, WVU coach Dana Holgorsen looks to re-shape its culture as he bulked up in the off-season and brought in taller and heavier players to go along with returning veterans, in hopes of giving Grier more time to make magic happen in the pocket.

“I’ve been happy with where our guys are at,” Holgorsen said during Monday’s Big 12 teleconference. “Everybody’s big now these days and in the tackle spots with Yodny [Cajuste] coming back for his fifth season at left tackle and Colton [McKivitz] as a three-year starter at right tackle, which allows me to sleep a little better at night knowing that we will be able to protect Will [Grier] back there.”

“We have a good battle going at center with [Matt] Jones, Brucy and we added the Brown Brothers (Leddie and Michael) to go along with Josh Sills, which gives us depth. Anytime you have competition in any position, it should make the guys around better players.”

3) West Virginia vs SEC opponents:

The Mountaineers’ recent history against SEC teams have not fared well as they lost five straight games from 2009-15 before the streak snapped in 2016 in a 26-11 win over Missouri.

In Saturday’s first ever meeting against Tennessee, West Virginia can make a statement by scoring back-to-back wins over SEC schools for the time a five-game streak from 2000-08 and can put them in a good spot to crack the top 10 depending on how other games play out on opening weekend.

4) The beginning of the Jeremy Pruitt era:

Since Phillip Fulmer stepped down at the end of the 2008 season, the Volunteers have endured constant turnover at the head coach position with three coaches over the previous 11 seasons—Lane Kiffin (2009) 7-6, Derek Dooley (2010-2012) 15-21 and Butch Jones (2013-17) 30-21.

Enter Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt became the Volunteers head coach on Dec. 7, 2017 and will look to restore the glory, but has a quarterback competition that will drag into the game against the Mountaineers.

Stanford graduate transfer Keller Chryst and redshirt sophomore Jarrett Guarantano are listed as options at quarterback as there was no definitive starter listed. Despite the uncertainty at the signal caller spot, Tennessee’s receivers led by Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway could give WVU’s defense a run for its money despite being a 10-point underdog.

5) Nigel Warrior:

Despite losing nickelback Rashaan Gaulden to the NFL Draft, safety Nigel Warrior proved he could hold his own.

Warrior finished second in tackles for the Volunteers with 83 last season and will be looked upon as one of the leaders of not only the secondary, but the entire defensive unit.

Social Media:

Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.