Saturday, September 1, 2018

No. 17 West Virginia 40, Tennessee 14: Grier shines in a 400-plus yard showing

Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka- Getty Images

By: Jeff Hauser

CHARLOTTE, N.C.— The start of college football hit the queen city with a premier SEC-Big 12 matchup between Tennessee Volunteers (0-1) and No. 17 West Virginia Mountaineers (1-0) at Bank of America Stadium. A total of 422 miles separates the two schools with Tennessee being the designated home team traveling 147 fewer miles into the Carolinas for the first of their three non-conference games in the 2018 season.

All the hype preseason that surrounded Will Grier carried over with all eyes squarely focused how the final season would begin for the West Virginia quarterback. The Big 12 offensive newcomer of the year last season assumed his early Heisman candidacy in top forum, going 25-of-34 for 429 yards and five touchdowns in a 40-14 route of Tennessee.

The Mountaineers defense rendered the Volunteers to 14 total yards on 15 plays resulting in three consecutive punts in the first quarter. Both teams seemed to settle in midway through the second quarter after West Virginia jumped out to a 10-0 lead.

Tennessee’s offense answered by constructing the longest drive of the game, marching down the field in 17 plays that ate up 8:47, which was capped off by a Jarrett Guarantano 1-yard touchdown pass to Dominick Wood-Anderson, reducing the WVU lead to 10-7.  The Mountaineers added a late 35-yard field goal by Evan Staley to end the first half going up by a score of 13-7.

“We just executed a little bit better,” Grier said.  “I put our guys in a better position in the first half. We executed and we we’re efficient. We were 0-of-3 on third down in the first half. We made adjustments and came out in the second half and executed well.”

And then things would start to become interesting.

What was intended to be a normal halftime period turned into a one hour and five-minute weather delay due to lightning in the Charlotte metro area, both teams were forced to remain in their respective locker rooms until the threat passed the area. Tennessee’s defense appeared to take advantage of the extra time when play resumed. A quick dump pass from Grier to Martell Pettaway on the first play of the Mountaineers drive went for a five-yard loss, but that feeling faded quickly with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Grier to Marcus Simms to extend the lead 20-7.

West Virginia added another twenty points in the final 28 minutes to secure the 26-point win over Tennessee, who had not lost an opening season game in ten years (Sept. 1, 2008: 27-24 OT at UCLA).

“What went from being a very close football game— basically with a little bit lack of execution, and execution on (West Virginia’s) part— gets out of hand just like that,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said after his first game as head coach. “That’s what happens when you have a team that’s very well coached.”

Looking Ahead:

Up next for West Virginia is a matchup with Youngstown State on Sept. 8 (6 p.m. ET). Tennessee heads back to Knoxville to host East Tennessee State (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network) before seeing UTEP, Florida, along with three top ten teams at No. 3 Georgia, at No. 9 Auburn and No. 1 Alabama in subsequent weeks. 

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