Grier leads No. 17 West Virginia past Tennessee 40-14
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — It isn’t in Will Grier’s nature to panic.
So two dropped touchdown passes, a 10-minute drive by the opposing offense and an hour-long weather delay at halftime weren’t about to distract the West Virginia senior quarterback on Saturday.
Grier got his Heisman Trophy campaign off to an impressive start, throwing for 429 yards and five touchdowns as the 17th-ranked Mountaineers pounded Tennessee 40-14 to spoil Jeremy Pruitt’s head coaching debut .
Leading 13-7 at halftime, the Associated Press preseason All-American turned up the heat in the third quarter, connecting on touchdown passes of 33 yards to David Sills, 28 yards to Gary Jennings, and 14 yards to Kennedy McCoy as the Mountaineers opened a 33-14 lead.
Grier, who grew up in the Charlotte area watching Carolina Panthers games and once threw for 10 TD passes in a high school playoff game for Davidson Day, was 14 of 19 for 275 yards and four TDs in the second half .
“He’s such a calm, collected kid that I don’t think all of that affected him in any way,” said West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Spavital. “He came out in the second half and just caught fire.”
Grier said the Mountaineers used the extra time at halftime to eat and hydrate — and figure out how to beat the Vols defense.
“It took us a while to get started, but especially in the second half I had a good understanding of what they were doing and what we wanted to do against them,” Grier said.
Coach Dana Holgorsen said Grier settled down nicely in the second half and did a better job of getting the ball out of his hands quicker, instead of trying to scramble.
“That’s the Will we need to see,” Holgorsen said.
Sills picked up where he left off last season when he had 18 touchdown receptions.
Grier’s favorite target had seven grabs for 140 yards and two TDs. Jennings had a big game, too, using his size to catch six passes for 113 yards.
“Will showed out today,” Sills said. “He makes my job easy. I just have to catch it when it is near me.”
Tennessee defensive tackle Shy Tuttle said the Vols simply didn’t come ready to play in the second half.
“We came out with high intensity in the first half. The second half we just didn’t match the intensity and it got away from us,” Tuttle said.
PRUITT’S FIRST LOSS
Pruitt has won six national championships as a defensive coach, including last year at Alabama. But his Vols had no answer for Grier and the high-powered Mountaineers offense.
Pruitt took blame for his first loss as the head coach.
“How your team plays tells you what kind of coach you are, and their team played better than our team today — so that’s on me,” Pruitt said. “I have to get these guys where they execute at a higher level and they believe in themselves. And I think we will do that.”
Tim Jordan ran for 118 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown for Tennessee, which had 165 yards rushing on 38 carries.
Tennessee: Jarrett Guarantano got the starting nod at quarterback over Keller Chryst and played all but the final series. That could change next week. The Vols had only one passing play of longer than 20 yards under Guarantano, who was limited to 172 yards passing. Pruitt said after the game that Chryst will get a chance to play some next week against East Tennessee State. “We need to play him,” Pruitt said.
West Virginia: While Grier lived up to his preseason hype, what might have been most impressive for the Mountaineers was the play of their defense in holding the Vols to just two touchdowns. They set the tone for the game by forcing Tennessee to go three-and-out on the game’s first possession after two tackles for a loss of 15 yards. “There were questions about people had about our defense and I think our kids responded,” said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
Tennessee: The Vols lost running back Ty Chandler to an ankle injury in the first half. He did not return.
West Virginia: Linebacker Charlie Benton left the game in the first half with a sprained knee and did not return.
The win will certainly do nothing to hurt West Virginia’s preseason ranking, but may not do much to improve it either given Tennessee is in a rebuilding mode following a 4-8 season.
Tennessee: Returns home to face East Tennessee State on Saturday.
West Virginia: Will be big favorites when they host Youngstown State next Saturday night.