College Sports

How an extra-long halftime pointed Will Grier to a spectacular second half

West Virginia’s Will Grier looks to pass against Tennessee in the first half of Saturday’s college football game at Bank of America Stadium.
West Virginia’s Will Grier looks to pass against Tennessee in the first half of Saturday’s college football game at Bank of America Stadium. AP

I’ve always thought the craft of quarterbacking is as much a point of view as a set of skills.

Sure, it’s a prerequisite that the quarterback has arm talent and size, and it helps greatly if his feet are quick enough to avoid the escape a pass rush. But all that counts for nothing if a quarterback can’t reason in real time: If he can’t differentiate between risk-taking and arrogance, he fails.

That’s what I liked most Saturday about Will Grier, the former Davidson Day School star who had a homecoming as West Virginia’s quarterback in a 40-14 victory over Tennessee. His numbers by the end of this one - 25 completions off 34 attempts for 429 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions - are the foundation of a Heisman Trophy campaign.

But what the final result doesn’t convey is Grier fell short of his “A” game in the first half and that didn’t hurt his team to any great degree. He overthrew a couple of receivers and the Mountaineers’ lead was only 13-7 at halftime, but he still looked efficient.

I suspect that’s what the NFL scouts in the back of the Bank of America press box took from this game, that when Grier isn’t sharp enough to carry your team, he’s smart enough not to hurt your team.

Grier showed patience and discretion early, even while admittedly missing some opportunities. He found the underneath receivers Tennessee’s defense conceded to protect its young secondary. When he did challenge the Volunteers down field, he hit Mountaineers wide receiver T.J. Simmons for what became a 59-yard touchdown.

“That’s what we talked about from January on: being efficient,” said West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. “I thought he handled all the first-half adjustments with maturity.”

Grier and his teammates had an inordinately long time to mull things over at halftime. Lightning in the vicinity of Bank of America Stadium cleared the stands and added 65 minutes to the break between halves. Grier said it was odd, having so long a rest in the locker room, but he ate and hydrated, and whatever the coaches told him sure raised his performance.

His second half: Touchdown completions of 35, 33, 28 and 10 yards. Fourteen completions off 19 attempts. And 275 passing yards, which would have been a fine total over four quarters.

Grier knows he’s blessed with a wealth of targets: David Sills and Gary Jennings combined for 13 catches, 253 yards and three touchdowns. Nine other Mountaineers caught at least one pass.

Grier feels guilty when he falls short setting up receivers’ play-making.

“They work really hard to make plays and that makes my job a whole lot easier,” Grier said. “It’s my job to get the ball in their hands.

“I put our guys in a better position than I did in the first half. We were 0-for-3 on third down (conversions) in the first half and 5-of-6 in the second half. That’s what we emphasized at halftime: We’ve got to convert those third downs and we’ve got to score in the red zone.”

At 23, Grier has already had a wealth of life experience, but good and bad: A major national recruit, he chose Florida, then was suspended by the NCAA after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Since then, he transferred to West Virginia, married and became a father.

He’s certainly no kid, and he sounds like an adult to his teammates, his coaches and the media.

That will play well with NFL general managers, who are as conscious of managing risk as hungering for plays that make fans jump out of their seats. This sure won’t be the last time he throws touchdowns in an NFL stadium.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell