Game one is in the books, and it looks like all that offseason hype was worth it. West Virginia dominated the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday in a 40-14 win.
Other than the one defensive series that allowed the Vols to control the clock for more than half of the second quarter, I have no complaints. Will Grier and the offense looked outstanding in the second half, and Tony Gibson’s defense held a team to the lowest total yards since late in the 2016 season.
Let’s take a look at the Mountaineer football stock market and see how things are moving to start the 2018 season.
Blue Chip Stocks
Will Grier, legitimate Heisman Award candidate
This one is a no-brainer. Grier proved that the entire #Grier7Heisman campaign is well-warranted on Saturday. After looking a little out of sync with his receivers in the first half, the Mountaineer signal caller emerged after a 65 minute weather delay completely supercharged. Grier completed 9 of his 11 passes in the third quarter for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Grier’s 429 yards and 5 TDS were the most against Tennessee since Tim Couch (476 yds in 1997) and Andre Woodson (6 TDS in a 4 OT game in 2007). Someone will try to point to Tennessee being in a rebuilding situation, but the Volunteers had legitimate four and five star athletes on that squad on Saturday. I’ll take throwing for 400+ yards and 5 touchdowns against even a middle-of-the-road SEC defense over the same stats against someone from almost any other conference any day of the week.
I was going to give this to David Sills V and Jennings together but after looking at the stats, there was one thing that stood out that gave Jennings the bump. Will Grier threw to Jennings six times on Saturday, and Gary caught all six passes for a total of 113 yards and 1 touchdown. For all the talk about Sills being a possible Biletnikoff Award finalist again this season, I think Jennings is going to be the difference maker.
The true freshman running back showed why Dana Holgorsen and the coaching staff have talked so highly of him. Brown carried the ball 8 times on Saturday for 33 yards, including an 11-yard run on his first run of the game. I’m not ready to call him the next great West Virginia running back, but I think the potential is there.
The Alabama Crimson Tide transfer only caught one pass on Saturday, but boy did he make it count. Grier found Simmons on a slant route on West Virginia’s second drive of the game, and TJ took the pass 59-yards down the sideline to put the Mountaineers up 10-0. Simmons may not get a ton of balls thrown his way this season, but he does he’s going to be dangerous.
Tennessee Volunteers defensive backs
I don’t know if I can think of anything more high-risk, high-yield than throwing two true freshman cornerbacks against a Heisman candidate in the first game of the season. That’s not saying the Volunteers aren’t talented in the secondary, but Jeremy Pruitt basically threw his guys to the wolves on Saturday.
Buy: Dana Holgorsen
For anyone that’s still not on board with Dana Holgorsen, I believe it’s time you need to buy in. I think Dana showed maturity as a head coach with the way he handled the extended halftime due to the weather delay, keeping the team relaxed and ready to go whenever play resumed. From a coaching standpoint, I think Holgorsen and his staff called a near-perfect game on Saturday.
I know there are still some holdouts that believe Holgorsen “isn’t one of us” - whatever that means - but his glowing comments after West Virginia’s win on Saturday shows me that he gets it.
“This is why we do it. It’s the greatest tradition in college football right here, we've got Country Roads playing.” - Dana Holgorsen pic.twitter.com/eIsWoKZH8b— WVU Football (@WVUfootball) September 2, 2018
Sell: Kennedy McKoy as the feature back
I think everyone went into this game expecting to see McKoy as the starting running back, but then we saw Martell Pettaway, Leddie Brown and Alec Sinkfield all get on the field before him. McKoy did take a pass out of the backfield in for a touchdown in the third quarter, but immediately blew any goodwill he built by losing a fumble on the ensuing offensive series.
I think we’re going to see West Virginia stick with the running back by committee approach as the season advances. If McKoy expects to get a bulk of the carries, he’s going to have to be explosive out of the backfield and show the staff he deserves them.
Buy: Kenny Bigelow
Talk about a debut. I was real tentative about getting excited about having a former five-star defensive lineman in the mix this season - given Bigelow’s history with knee injuries - but if Bigelow manages to stay healthy and continues to play like he did on Saturday, I think we have another early round NFL Draft pick on our hands.