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Grier Puts on a Show, WVU Rolls Over Tennessee

 

(Sills, WV)

CHARLOTTE – Will Grier's first opportunity to impress Heisman Trophy voters in front of friends and family in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, was a smashing success.
 
And you can count Tennessee's first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt among the believers.
 
"In the second half, that guy made some throws and they made some catches," Pruitt said. "Then a close game gets out of hand. You can disguise some looks and muddy the water, but the guy is experienced and knows what he's doing out there."
 
Pruitt watched his Volunteer secondary get surgically dissected to the tune of 429 yards and five touchdowns – the most ever allowed by a Tennessee football team – in West Virginia's convincing, 40-14 season-opening victory today at Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers.
 
Grier's final passing totals included 25 completions in 34 attempts for a 228 passer rating. Eleven different players caught Grier passes, including three by tight ends Trevon Wesco and Jovani Haskins.
 
The majority of Grier's passing yardage and touchdowns came in the second half, which included a 20-point third quarter outburst that enabled WVU to take control of the game.
 
This came after a 65-minute lightning delay at halftime when strikes in the area forced two delays at 5:15 p.m. and 5:45 p.m.
 
When the two teams returned to the field, the older, more experienced Mountaineers with a veteran coaching staff benefited from the stoppage.
 
"I felt good about the continuity of our coaching staff and the extra time helped at halftime with adjustments," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.
 
Two big pass plays from Grier, the first coming on third and 7 at the WVU 35 when he hit Marcus Simms on a quick slant for 32 yards to the Volunteer 33, and the second going to David Sills V (ECU/Wilmington) on the very next play for a touchdown expanded WVU's lead to 20-7.
 
Grier was back at it the next time WVU got the ball following a Tennessee punt. A Martell Pettaway 22-yard run gave West Virginia a first down at the Volunteer 40, giving Grier more room to work on Tennessee's inexperienced secondary.
 
He hit tailback Alec Sinkfield out of the backfield for 9 yards, and then two plays later, fired a beautifully placed pass to Gary Jennings Jr.'s back shoulder for a 28-yard touchdown, his third TD strike of the afternoon. 
 
Tennessee answered with its second touchdown, a five-play, 75-yard drive accomplished mostly on the ground, the big gainer being a Tim Jordan 30-yard run taking the ball to the Mountaineer 45. Four plays later, with a pass interference penalty called on West Virginia's Josh Norwood assisting things, Jordan bounced in from the WVU 4.
 
Grier's third touchdown pass of the quarter, and his fourth of the game, came quickly. His well-placed toss to a sliding Jennings Jr. moved the ball into Tennessee territory. Then, Grier passes to Sills V and Haskins set up a swing pass out in the flat to running back Kennedy McKoy for a 14-yard touchdown.
 
Sills V was the game's top receiver with seven catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns, while Jennings Jr. contributed 113 yards and a TD on six catches.
 
Seven different ball carriers helped WVU gain 118 yards on 27 attempts, including a team-best 56 yards from starting tailback Martell Pettaway.
 
Four-year transfers played a big role in West Virginia's early 10-0 first quarter lead. USC transfer Kenny Bigelow Jr. blew past Tennessee center Brandon Kennedy on the first play of the game to sack Jarrett Guarantano, who fumbled the ball but was able to recover it at the Volunteer 15. 
 
Then, following Evan Staley's 26-yard field goal on WVU's opening offensive possession of the game, the Mountaineers' next drive after a Tennessee punt resulted in a 59-yard touchdown pass from former Florida transfer Grier to Alabama transfer T.J. Simmons
 
Simmons caught the ball on an underneath route, slipped past one Tennessee tackler near midfield and then followed Simms' block down the far sideline to slip into the end zone. It was his first pass reception as a Mountaineer.
 
Staley's conversion kick made it 10-0 West Virginia.
 
The first-quarter numbers were heavily skewed in the Mountaineers' favor – 139 total yards to Tennessee's 27, including minus-17 yards rushing for the Volunteers. 
 
But WVU missed two opportunities that could have resulted in more points, one coming on its opening possession when Sills V dropped a sure touchdown in the back of the end zone, and later in the quarter when Sills V was wide open down the far sideline but Grier was unable to deliver the ball to him.
 
Tennessee's offense found its rhythm at the start of the second quarter, the Vols driving from their own 27 to the WVU 1 as Guarantano completed four of five passes for 39 yards, including a 14-yard strike to Josh Palmer. Three straight Tennessee runs lost a yard before Gurantano hooked up with wide-open tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown.
 
The Tennessee march consumed 17 plays and 8:47 of the clock.
 
Another Volunteer drive fizzled out at the WVU 41, giving the Mountaineers the football with 1:52 left in the half. Jennings Jr. fair-caught Joe Doyle's punt at the 10, but West Virginia gained 15 additional yards when Tennessee tight end Austin Pope was flagged for a personal foul.
 
Grier immediately went to work, hitting Sills V for 18 yards to the WVU 43. The senior also completed passes of 8 yards to Simms and 14 yards to Jennings Jr. to move the ball to the UT 30. A Leddie Brown run of 11 yards preceded a Grier sack, forcing WVU to burn its second timeout with 18 seconds left.
 
West Virginia's next play resulted in Grier scrambling out of trouble for a 4-yard gain to the Tennessee 18 leaving only five seconds on the clock. Here, Holgorsen settled for Staley's second field goal, a 35-yarder, to give WVU a 13-7 halftime lead. 
 
Guarantano completed 19-of-25 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown, while Jordan led all ball carriers with 118 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
 
West Virginia outgained the Volunteers 547 to 301. The Mountaineer defense, which produced a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter, limited Tennessee to just five of 14 on third down.
 
"This was a complete win with a pretty solid score for us against an SEC program," Holgorsen said.
 
An announced crowd of 66,793, equally distributed between West Virginia and Tennessee fans, watched today's game.
 
The Mountaineers open at home next Saturday evening against Youngstown State in game that will kick off at 6 p.m. and will be televised locally on AT&T Sportsnet.


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