MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Lightning delayed the second half of No. 17 West Virginia’s matchup Saturday with Tennessee, but when the storms subsided, Will Grier kept the lightning striking in what wound up a 40-14 victory for the Mountaineers at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
After two lackadaisical quarters to open the game, Grier completed 9 of 11 passes for 156 yards and put three touchdowns up on the board to help the Mountaineers pull away from the Volunteers in the third quarter. He finished the game with 429 yards on 25-of-34 passing with five touchdowns.
"We settled in and then played a complete game," Grier said in a postgame interview on the field.
"That's the Will we need to see," Dana Holgorsen said. “The game should be slower to him. He should not panic in situations. I feel like he got caught and with the ball too many times for my liking...he did a much better job of controlling the game and getting us into the right play and getting it out of his hands in the second half.”
Under first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee’s offense took a few drives to get going. But redshirt sophomore QB Jarrett Guarantano got into a rhythm to allow the Volunteers to hang around with a long scoring drive in the second quarter.
Tennessee’s defense gave West Virginia a few fits late in the first half and forced a field goal to end the half, just before lightning struck nearby causing about an hour delay.
From there, it was all West Virginia despite a solid touchdown march from Tennessee in the midst of Grier’s three-score quarter.
"In the second half, that guy (Grier) 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."
THE GAME BALLS
My top three performers:
1. Will Grier
West Virginia quarterback
The senior signal caller really stepped it up in the second half, but he finished the game with 429 yards on 25-of-34 passing with five touchdowns.
2. Kenny Bigelow
West Virginia defensive tackle
Bigelow set the tone for this West Virginia defense, sacking Jarrett Guarantano on the first play of the game while stripping the football for a forced fumble. In the same series, he had a massive stop in the backfield on a running play.
3. David Sills
West Virginia wide receiver
The senior receiver dropped an early touchdown, but he bounced back to haul in a total of seven catches for 140 yards and two scores.
West Virginia's run defense seemed very much improved. David Long was his usual self and was all over the place. He finished with a team-high six solo tackles and nine total. Tennessee ran for just 129 yards in the game, with 118 of those coming from Tim Jordan, who didn't even start the game. Ty Chandler, Tennessee's starter, rushed four times for negative 4 yards before leaving the game with an injury. Only Jordan had a rush for more than 10 yards in the game, and the Volunteers averaged just 3.4 yards per carry for the game. Nine Mountaineer players combined for 12 tackles for a loss. Darius Stills had 2.5 and Reese Donahue and Bigelow both had two.
"I think we got different people there this year and having some older guys brings quite a different presence on that side of the ball," Holgorsen said of the D-line's play.
The Mountaineers' secondary continues to be suspect. Tennessee figured that out about three drives into the game and had very little issues finding open receivers once some in-game adjustments were made. This caused West Virginia to drop more linebackers back into pass coverage, taking away from what was an effective pass rush early on in the game. Marquez Callaway led Tennessee in the receiving game, 85 yards on seven catches, but four Tennessee receivers had a catch for at least 10 yards.
Defensively, Hakeem Bailey seemed to draw most of the targets against Tennessee receivers, as curl routes seemed to be most effective against the redshirt junior cornerback.
"We had a hard time getting off the field on the two possessions they drove down and scored. I was not happy with that," Holgorsen said. "For the most part we played good defense. It was just the critical downs that weren’t what we wanted them to be. The reason this game was close at it was at half time was because of that."
Throughout the first half, Grier was oftentimes seen kicking himself for missing on a pass. It happened when Sills dropped what looked to be a sure touchdown in the end zone in the first quarter and again when Grier missed Leddie Brown out of the backfield on a wheel route that likely would have scored had it been caught.
But during the midst of his touchdown barrage, Grier and Sills looked like the duo they were touted to be, connecting on just about everything, including this perfectly-thrown ball to Sills:
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 1, 2018
"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 Jake Spavital. "He came out in the second half and just caught fire."
This one doesn't come from West Virginia. Down 10-0 and on the goal line facing a fourth down, Pruitt elected to go for the touchdown instead of a field goal despite losing yardage the previous three plays. It paid off as Dominick Wood-Anderson was wide open in the right side of the end zone for a score, cutting the lead to 10-7 and keeping Tennessee in the game at the time.
THE OTHER SIDE
Guarantano did a fine job in his first start of the season after coughing up the football on his first play from scrimmage and then getting his helmet knocked off plays later. He eventually settled in and completed a respectable 19-of-25 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown. The sophomore managed the game well and spread the ball around, too, hitting nine different receivers in the game.
THE INJURY UPDATE
• Charlie Benton, linebacker, carted off the sideline with a reported knee strain.
West Virginia will travel back to Morgantown and get back to practice Monday. Dana Holgorsen and Co. will hold press conferences Tuesday ahead of Saturday's game against Youngstown State, which is slated for 6 p.m. at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown.
Visit our West Virginia team page for everything from this game.
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