Have yourself a homecoming, Will Grier.
The former Davidson Day star, now West Virginia’s starting quarterback and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, wasn’t perfect in Saturday’s college football opener against Tennessee, but boy was he close. And while the gaudy numbers — 25-for-34 for 429 yards and five touchdowns — will stand out looking back on the eventual 40-14 Mountaineers victory, they won’t tell the full story of how truly dominant Grier was.
He made every throw asked of him, from deep routes down the seam to dump-offs out of the backfield, proving in the process why several NFL scouts were in attendance at Bank of America Stadium to watch him. It was a mystery, his team already ahead 33-14 to start the fourth quarter, that he returned to the game.
Aside from Grier, West Virginia’s defense was simply more aggressive and stout than Tennessee’s. The Mountaineers only had one sack, but their 12 tackles for loss were huge in stifling any sort of Volunteers rushing attack.
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But the biggest surprise of the game? That considering the epic matchup between Penn State and Appalachian State going on at the same time, so many fans stayed for the end of the blowout.
Three who mattered
Will Grier: He wasted no time shredding Tennessee’s young cornerbacks, and ultimately it was surprising he played in the fourth quarter.
Gary Jennings: He wasn’t West Virginia’s leading receiver, but he had two of the nicest catches of the game: first, a 28-yard over the shoulder touchdown grab, and the second a deep bomb down the right sideline that he practically scooped off the ground.
Paul Bain: The Tennessee defensive tackle recovered a fumble midway through the fourth quarter, the only takeaway of the game.
▪ Tennessee finished the first quarter with minus-17 rushing yards, a sign of the team’s inexperienced offensive line. And if that wasn’t enough, ask quarterback Jarrett Guarantano about that O-line — in addition to being hit repeatedly, he failed to move the Volunteers past midfield in the first quarter.
▪ After Tennessee drove to the 1-yard line in the second quarter, West Virginia took a timeout to gather itself... and promptly stopped the Vols’ next three plays. But on fourth down, a play-action pass fooled the defense enough that Guarantano found a receiver wide open in the end zone.
▪ Of all the impressive passes Grier made, there was perhaps none better than his third touchdown: a 28-yard, over-the-shoulder toss that fell perfectly into Gary Jennings’ hands. That score made it 27-7.
▪ Down 33-14, Tennessee had a chance to make it a two-score game in the fourth quarter, but facing fourth-and-goal, Guarantano overthrew his receiver in the back corner of the end zone.
▪ It wasn’t of any huge importance to the outcome of the game, but regardless, it was fascinating to watch the implementation of the new college football rule regarding kickoffs. Any fair catch within the 25-yard line gives the receiving team the ball at the 25, which happened more than once in the game.
▪ Even though Tennesse is much closer to Charlotte than West Virginia, the Mountaineers had a decent advantage in terms of crowd presence — call it 65-35 WVU.
.▪ Lightning in the area forced a weather delay at halftime that lasted an hour and five minutes.
.▪ It was an obvious homecoming for Grier, but there were a number of other local products on both sides. West Virginia also had running back Kennedy McCoy (Lexington), while Tennessee had backup quarterback Keller Chryst (Charlotte) and defensive tackle Shy Tuttle (Midway).
.▪ A telling statistic (and Tennessee fans, avert your eyes): West Virginia converted five of its nine third downs, while the Vols only converted five of their 14.
.▪ While West Virginia didn’t quite double the Vols up in terms of yardage, they came close — WVU finished with 547 total yards compared to 301 for Tennessee.
They said it
“That turned everybody up. We got the momentum. We need that every game, every play.” - West Virginia LB David Long on setting the tone by putting Tennessee in fourth-and-25 on the first Vols’ possession.
“Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. No doubt. We missed some things that we shouldn’t miss, and it comes down to execution.” – Grier on if he thought the offense could have scored more points in the first half.
“Watched football games, ate two bananas, had a couple of cold beverages, and then obviously made a whole bunch of adjustments. There’s only so much you can do.” – West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen on what he did during the extended halftime.