West Virginia spoils Pruitt’s debut

Image result for tennessee vs west virginiaBy STEVE REED   |   The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Will Grier got his Heisman Trophy campaign off to an impressive start, throwing for 429 yards and five touchdowns as No. 17 West Virginia defeated Tennessee 40-14 Saturday in a game delayed for more than an hour at halftime due to lightning.

Leading 13-7 at halftime, the Associated Press preseason All-American turned up the heat in the third quarter, connecting on touchdown passes of 33 yards to David Sills, 28 yards to Gary Jennings, and 14 yards to Kennedy McCoy as the Mountaineers opened a 33-14 lead.

Grier, who grew up in the Charlotte area watching Carolina Panthers games and once threw for 10 TD passes in a high school playoff game for Davidson Day, was 14 of 19 for 275 yards and four TDs in the second half.

“It took us a while to get started, but especially in the second half I had a good understanding of what they were doing and what we wanted to do against them,” Grier said.

Sills had seven grabs for 140 yards and two touchdowns after 18 TD receptions last season. Jennings had six catches for 113 yards.

“Will showed out today,” Sills said. “He makes my job easy. I just have to catch it when it is near me.”

Tim Jordan ran for 118 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown for Tennessee, which lost in Jeremy Pruitt’s head coaching debut.

Pruitt won six national championships as a defensive coach, including last year at Alabama, but his Vols had no answer for Grier and the high-powered Mountaineers offense.

Pruitt took blame for his first loss as the Vols coach.

“How your team plays tells you what kind of coach you are, and their team played better than our team today — so that’s on me,” Pruitt said. “I have to get this team to believe I have to get these guys where they execute at a higher level and they believe in themselves. And I think we will do that.”

Jarrett Guarantano got the starting nod at quarterback over Keller Chryst and struggled at times. The Vols had only one passing play of longer than 20 yards and Guarantano was limited to 172 yards passing. Pruitt said after the game that Chryst will get a chance to play some next week. “We need to play him,” Pruitt said.

While Grier lived up to his preseason hype, what might have been most impressive for the Mountaineers was the play of their defense in holding the Vols to just two touchdowns. They set the tone for the game by forcing Tennessee to go three-and-out on the game’s first possession after two tackles for a loss of 15 yards.

The Vols lost sophomore running back Ty Chandler to an ankle injury in the first half. He did not return.

Tennessee returns home to face East Tennessee State on Saturday, while the Mountaineers will host Youngstown State next Saturday night.

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