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  • Will Grier's Heisman campaign kicked off with a five-touchdown effort to beat Tennessee in Jeremy Pruitt's debut as head coach.
By Scooby Axson
September 01, 2018

The sleeper pick in the Big 12 to try to dethrone Oklahoma is believed by many to be a West Virginia team that returns the key pieces of an offense that lit up defenses last year. With a Heisman candidate in quarterback Will Grier and touchdown machine David Sills V at receiver, the Mountaineers hope to ride that momentum to a conference title and a possible playoff berth.

In the weather-delayed Belk College Kickoff in Charlotte against Tennessee, West Virginia took control in the second half, winning 40–14 against a Tennessee team coming off a 4–8 record and winless SEC season.

There is no telling when the Volunteers will be Tennessee again, as coach Jeremy Pruitt has said. They haven’t won a conference title in 20 years and have lost two straight to perennial doormat Vanderbilt.

Here are three thoughts on the Mountaineers' Week 1 win:

Will Grier homecoming and Heisman hype

Grier had a prolific high school career at Davidson Day School near Charlotte, including throwing for a national high school record 834 yards and 10 touchdowns in a North Carolina state playoff game his junior season.

After a roller coaster career at Florida, where he was suspended for PED use, Grier landed at West Virginia hoping to restore his career and threw for 34 touchdowns in an injury-plagued 2017 season.

On Saturday, Grier overshot wide open receivers early, but a one-hour weather delay did him some good. On the first possession of the second half, Grier found his favorite target, Sills, for a 33-yard touchdown strike to cap off a quick four-play drive. On WVU's next drive, Grier hit Gary Jennings Jr. for a 28-yard score. The Mountaineers were never challenged from there, even when receivers dropped two touchdown passes.

Grier finished with 429 yards and five touchdowns.

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West Virginia's defense

In order to compete consistently in the Big 12, two things are necessary in having: the ability to tackle and the ability to cover the conference’s stable of talented wide receivers. Tennessee isn’t in the Big 12 of course, but West Virginia could do neither for long stretches of the game, especially in the first half.

Tennessee continued to exploit that weakness even while down by 20 points in the fourth quarter by continuing to run the ball. The truth is, West Virginia will need some young players to step up in what is expected to be a wild conference season.

Tennessee begins the long climb back

Tennessee was 5-0-1 in season-opening neutral site games coming into the game.

But its myriad of problems began long before it stepped foot on the field Saturday. After botching a coaching search that saw a minimum of six candidates in the mix following Butch Jones's firing last season (athletic director John Currie also was sent packing), the Volunteers settled on former Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.

Pruitt, who has also coached as an assistant at Florida State and Georgia, could whip this team into shape if given time, but patience is never a guarantee when it comes to SEC fanbases.

The glaring problems that crept up for Tennessee against West Virginia included a morbid running game outside sophomore Tim Jordan, which was to be expected after Pruitt inherited the SEC’s worst offense from 2017. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano took few chances down the field, but the Vols could do nothing with a time of possession advantage.

The good news for the Orange and White is a chance to collect some victories coming up before the season hits a crucial point. After games against East Tennessee State and UTEP, the Vols face what could be the most difficult gauntlet of games this decade.

A home game against Florida on Sept. 22 is followed up by road games at Georgia, at Auburn, the annual clash against Alabama in Knoxville and a visit to Columbia to face South Carolina.

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