No. 17 West Virginia strikes gold, wins opener

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 Pruitt) is pretty good,” he said. “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,” Pruitt said. “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),” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We weren’t prepared for that eight years ago when it happened against Marshall in our opener. We were prepared today.”

WVU, which opens its home slate of games at 6 p.m. Saturday when 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,” Pruitt said. “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 Mountaineers had one of its better days, as Tony Gibson’s gang came away with 12 tackles for losses 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,” the former-Alabama defensive coordinator said. “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 to no 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 Mountaineers on a five-play, 30-yard drive that culminated with a 35-yard field goal from Staley on the half’s final play.