by Jim Buzzerd
This time next week we will know a lot more about the West Virginia University Football Team than we do today. That’s because this Saturday the Mountaineers open their much-anticipated 2018 season in Charlotte against SEC opponent Tennessee. Tennessee has been down for a few seasons and will be playing their first game with a new coach and staff. Jeremy Pruitt will begin his first head-coaching gig against WVU this Saturday. Pruitt’s last three jobs have been in the capacity of defensive coordinator at Florida State, Georgia and most recently as defensive coordinator of national champion Alabama.
The defensive minded Pruitt figures to have his hands full with WVU’s high-octane offense Saturday. Or, will Pruitt be able to install a defense that may be effective in slowing down WVU which has first team Associated Press All American Will Grier at quarterback with first team All American receiver David Sills to throw to?
West Virginia was a 10-point favorite Sunday, so the odds makers obviously feel WVU has too much for the new coach and new staff to get ready for. Word of caution though; it’s true that the Volunteers stumbled under previous coach Butch Jones, but their recruiting was strong. Take that as an indication that there is talent in Knoxville and taking them lightly shouldn’t be an option. Unless the vast majority of the pre season prognosticators are dead wrong, WVU should be fine offensively against Tennessee.
That leaves the West Virginia defense to worry about. Tennessee fans, like any fan base, are confident they have the answer to WVU’s talent on offense. They figure they can run the ball at will against the Mountaineers thus keeping Grier and the offense off the field. One would have to agree that will be the Tennessee game plan. West Virginia’s rush defense was one of the worst in college football last season, so who could blame the Volunteers for licking their chops?
Numerous reports and interviews suggest WVU has improved greatly on the defensive front with the addition of grad transfers Kenny Bigelow from USC and Jabril Robinson from Clemson. Four-star recruit Dante Stills has made noise in camps and big things are expected from him. Stills’ older brother Darius as well as Ezekiel Rose, Reese Donahue and Jeffery Pooler are a year older and bigger. Listening to head coach Dana Holgorsen the other day saying the D-line has gone from a weakness to a strength is encouraging.
Behind the line things may be shaky. Linebacker David Long is one of the best in college football, but injuries have hurt the position and teams will likely not be challenging Long very often. The good news is some of the injured players could be back in October. The secondary led by Dravon Henry has some untested talent. Murmurs of the defense surprising this season have been heard.
Personally, I’m not ready to buy in on the defense. It definitely sounds like it will be better, but just being better probably won’t be enough to move the needle a lot. If the defense is substantially better, the 2018 season will be a lot of fun for Mountaineer fans.