West Virginia's David Sills (13) celebrates a first down against Tennessee in the first half of an NCAA football game in Charlotte, N.C.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — First impressions usually are the most lasting ones. Just ask first-year University of Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
“Yeah, to answer your question, he (WVU’s Will Grier) is pretty good,” said Pruitt. “The thing I was most impressed with was he let the game come to him.
“In the first half, we were able to control the ball a little and keep him off the field. But when he got the chances, he made the most of them.”
Grier, WVU’s Heisman Trophy candidate, completed 25-of-34 attempts for 429 yards and five touchdowns as No. 17 West Virginia (1-0) left Bank of America Stadium with a 40-14 victory over the Volunteers in the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
“Those guys (West Virginia) got better as the game went on,” continued Pruitt. “Our guys fought hard in the first half, but that guy (Grier) made some throws and they (WVU’s receivers) made some catches and things just got away from us in the second half.”
The game was delayed for 65 minutes following a first half which witnessed the Mountaineers score on their first two drives and their final drive to take a 13-7 lead into the intermission.
“We actually talked about that (the lightning delay),” explained WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “We weren’t prepared for that eight years ago when it happened against Marshall in our opener. We were prepared today.”
And it looked it as WVU, which opens its home slate of games at 6 p.m. next Saturday when the Penguins from Youngstown State come to Mountaineer Field, scored on its first two possessions and never looked back in handing Pruitt his first loss as the leader of the Vols.
“To me, the most important thing is how your team plays,” said Pruitt. “And their team played better, so they are better coached.”
Eleven different players caught passes from Grier – senior David Sills V led the way with seven for 140 yards and a pair of touchdowns – while the running game accounted for 118 yards as Martell Pettaway led the way with 56 yards on nine carries.
Defensively, the Old Gold and Blue had one of its better days as Tony Gibson’s gang came away with 12 tackles for loss and one sack while giving up only 14 points.
“You know, I felt pretty good after we were able to put together that 18-play drive there in the second quarter,” added Pruitt, the former Alabama defensive coordinator. “But he (Gibson) did a great job at the half making adjustments and we just weren’t able to maintain any kind of consistency the rest of the game.”
Junior David Long Jr. and sophomore Kenny Robinson Jr. led the way with nine stops each as the defense held UT to 301 total yards.
It was the “best” of WVU and the “worst” of WVU during the first 30 minutes against the Volunteers.
The Mountaineer defense dominated the line of scrimmage, limiting UT and Pruitt to zero points and 27 total yards en route to a 10-0 lead after the first 15 minutes.
Then came the second quarter.
An 18-play, 78-yard drive allowed Tennessee to get on the board while Will Grier and Company were forced to sit on the sideline.
West Virginia’s Heisman candidate was able to put together one more scoring drive before the intermission, taking the Old Gold and Blue on a 5-play, 30-yard drive which culminated with a 35-yard field goal from Evan Staley on the half’s final play.
Then it was Mother Nature’s turn to put a damper on the season opener for both programs as lightning strikes in the area forced the teams to remain in the locker rooms and the fans under the concourse.
No. 17 West Virginia 40, Tennessee 14
West Virginia 10 3 20 7 — 40
Tennessee 0 7 7 0 — 14
WVU–FG Staley 26, 11:00
WVU–Simmons 59 pass from Grier (Staley kick), 3:32
TEN–Wood-Anderson 1 pass from Guarantano (Cimaglia kick), 6:13
WVU–FG Staley 35, :00
WVU–D.Sills 33 pass from Grier (Staley kick), 12:54
WVU–G.Jennings 28 pass from Grier (Staley kick), 8:09
TEN–Jordan 4 run (Cimaglia kick), 6:09
WVU–McKoy 14 pass from Grier (pass failed), 1:15
WVU–D.Sills 10 pass from Grier (Staley kick), 2:02
First downs 26 19
Rushes-yards 27-118 38-129
Passing 429 172
Comp-Att-Int 25-34-0 19-25-0
Return Yards 51 77
Punts-Avg. 1-47.0 6-38.16
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-0
Penalties-Yards 4-35 6-48
Time of Possession 27:37 32:23
RUSHING–West Virginia, Pettaway 9-56, L.Brown 8-33, McKoy 4-18, Simms 1-5, Sinkfield 1-4, Bush 1-2, Grier 3-0. Tennessee, Jordan 20-118, London 5-12, J.Banks 5-11, Palmer 1-7, T.Chandler 4-(minus 4), Guarantano 3-(minus 15).
PASSING–West Virginia, Grier 25-34-0-429. Tennessee, Guarantano 19-25-0-172.
RECEIVING–West Virginia, D.Sills 7-140, G.Jennings 6-113, Simms 2-40, Wesco 2-35, Sinkfield 2-15, Simmons 1-59, McKoy 1-14, Haskins 1-9, Maiden 1-8, Bush 1-1, Pettaway 1-(minus 5). Tennessee, Callaway 7-85, Palmer 3-33, J.Jennings 2-29, Jordan 2-11, J.Banks 1-10, Murphy 1-5, Wood-Anderson 1-1, B.Johnson 1-1, Tillman 1-(minus 3).
MISSED FIELD GOALS–None.