What a way to start the 2018 football season! After all of that shit-talking the Volunteer fanbase did, it felt good to put our collective foot on the throat of the Vols and just slowly squeeze the life and effort out of them. Let’s dive right into my thoughts because if you’re like me, you are still riding high from that game.
What a way to make a debut. The big man from USC Trojans put himself in the minds of the Tennessee coaches right away as he threw the center out of the way and drilled Jarrett Guarantano just as he let go of the ball. The hit caused a 10-yard loss and kept JG from getting into an early rhythm. Two plays later, Bigelow blew up a run and stuffed Ty Chandler for a five-yard loss.
That's a pretty solid defensive start for @WVUfootball. pic.twitter.com/WhjNrUmupa— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 1, 2018
...Early Game Struggles
I’m not totally surprised we started slow. Matt Kirchner pointed out that the team has a tendency to start slow and couple that with a homecoming for Grier and the first game of the season, a slow start was all but expected. The offense looked well early, gaining 150 yards but they didn’t hit any big plays, other than the TJ Simmons touchdown. Tennessee then put together a 17 play drive that gassed the defense a bit.
Slow starts are going to happen but it will be important later on that the offense get going early to allow the defense to find their footing and put teams in a hole.
...Those Throws to Gary Jennings
Wow, just wow. First off they are impressive but I do actually worry about them. Grier is still a 22-year old kid and is prone to the “I can do that because I’ve done it before”. The touchdown throw was very good but the sideline throw has the chance to become an interception. It could be nitpicking but making multiple contested throws will lead to turnovers and turnovers are going to be something that brings this team to its knees at the wrong time.
"OH MAN!"— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 1, 2018
"That was perfect."
Yes, yes it was. pic.twitter.com/bIezhd9MMk
I think Grier started the game early looking for killshots and it showed. He extended plays when he didn’t need to and he focused solely on David Sills unless it was absolutely forced upon him. In the second half, the coaching staff did a great job of getting quick early throws that are a hallmark of the Air Raid. You saw a vintage Air Raid drive on the first touchdown. Running back screen, running back flat, curl route then strike. This drive gave Grier easy throws to start, spread the defense out and then stressed them vertically.
...Run Defense and Run Game
I told you the run defense would be improved and it definitely was. The Volunteers ran 38 times for 129 yards, an average of 3.4 YPC. Running back Tim Jordan had one big run and a few other very solid runs. When Tennessee got plays blocked right they were able to generate some positive yards but overall the run defense showed good discipline and got into the backfield to disrupt the runs or stop them for losses.
On the flip side, Martell Pettaway got the start and looked strong later in the game as he drug Tennessee defenders with him for a 22-yard gain. Freshman Leddie Brown looked the part showing vision, quickness and decisiveness on his runs. The committee approach worked well to give the Mountaineers several backs capable of handling a higher workload but able to rotate in and out freely.
....Neutral Site Games
As a former alumnus who does not live close enough to enjoy Mountaineer football regularly in Morgantown, neutral site games allow me the opportunity to watch my favorite team in person. As every fan can attest, there is nothing better than singing “Country Roads” with 50,000+ of your closest fans. For alumni like me, neutral site games are great.
For the University, they are a boon and likely aren’t going away any time soon. According to Mitch Vingle, WVU made close to $3M for the game: $2,500,000 for the game itself plus a $400k bonus because the game drew over 66,000 fans. That is significant for a school that is trying to increase its national awareness and needs to improve facilities.
Now you heard many college football analysts starting to wish away these neutral site games because it would be great to see WVU playing in Neyland Stadium or Tennessee marching into Milan-Puskar and yes, it would. That doesn’t mean that opening game neutral site games should go away. It means teams in the SEC should schedule more Power 5 teams instead of one and then playing cupcakes for their rest of noncon.