After a long, exhausting wait, college football made a rather triumphant return this past weekend.
And no one relished the opportunity to get back on the field more than West Virginia’s Will Grier.
The senior quarterback and Heisman hopeful posted a career-high 429 passing yards and five touchdowns, leading the Mountaineers to a decisive 40-14 victory over Tennessee in Charlotte on Saturday afternoon.
After a massively important season-opening win, here is what we’ve learned after week one:
West Virginia Goes as Will Grier Goes
For better or worse, the Mountaineers’ season is contingent on Grier’s health and success. You would expect as much when such quarterback is vaunted as a first-round draft pick and Heisman contender, but while Grier displayed some rust during the first half (9-15, 154 yards), the running game did very little to compensate for his slow start. During the first half, West Virginia only managed 41 yards rushing on 9 carries. If the Mountaineers plan on claiming its first ever Big XII crown, the running game will need to improve.
Leddie Brown and Martell Pettaway Will Carry the Load
Speaking of running game, true freshman Leddie Brown looked confident and comfortable toting the rock against an SEC defense in his Mountaineer debut. The former four-star prospect tallied 33 yards and a 4.1 yards per carry average on only eight carries. His counterpart, Martell Pettaway, rushed for 56 yards on nine carries. West Virginia used four different running backs in Saturday’s game, but it became clear the combination of Brown and Pettaway have earned the lion’s share of playing time moving forward.
Defense still needs to Improve
At times, the West Virginia defense looked surprisingly dominant against Tennessee’s run-heavy offense. And at times, they didn’t. The Mountaineers tallied 12 tackles for loss, the most since 2011, and held the Volunteers to only 129 yards rushing after allowing an average of 204 yards per game in 2017. The secondary also showed improvement, hindering Tennessee’s passing attack to only 179 yards and a touchdown. The cause for concern, however, came when the Vols were able to put together a 17-play, over eight-minute drive in the first half to cut the Mountaineers’ lead to just three. Being on the wrong end of a long, time-consuming drive won’t do any favors to a defense suddenly struggling with depth.
Dana Holgorsen looks like a Veteran Head Coach
During a one-hour weather delay at the half, the narrative became how Holgorsen and his coaching staff took the advantage of the extra time by allowing his players to relax rather than over-complicating things with excessive game planning. He’s been in that situation before and it obviously worked. The Mountaineers opened the second half with a four-play, 68-yard scoring drive followed by another scoring drive before the Vols responded with its final touchdown of the game with 6:09 remaining in the third quarter. After an inaccurate showing in the first half, Grier torched the Vols for 275 yards and four touchdowns in the second half alone. All the while, Holgorsen proved that rather than panic, sometimes the best the thing to say to your star quarterback is nothing at all.