by Jim Buzzerd
Welcome to Morgantown Kenny Bigelow! On the first offensive play of the game West Virginia University nose tackle Kenny Bigelow, a graduate transfer from USC, literally blew up the Tennessee center and tackled Volunteer quarterback Jarrett Guarantano for a two yard loss. Bigelow’s career at USC was pretty much a bust due to injuries, but that was a cool play and the WVU defensive line dominated the early play, so much so that Tennessee quit trying to run at WVU.
While it should be difficult to find fault in a 40-14 win over a SEC opponent, it does look like the West Virginia defense may struggle again in 2018. Once Tennessee quit challenging the Mountaineers’ interior defense they found success on the perimeter. Having a 6-4, 300 pound man in the middle can do wonderful things.
It’s nice to know WVU has a presence up front, but the back eight have a ways to go to prepare for the Big 12 onslaught. Making matters worse is that linebacker Charlie Benton was lost for the season in the first half of Saturday’s game. Benton was looking great in his first game as a Mountaineer and now an already thin line backing corps became thinner.
Ok, enough about the defense, hopefully they graded out better than I think they did. The day clearly belonged to the offense. It wasn’t clear in the first half if the offense would rule the day because quarterback Will Grier missed a couple throws that would have resulted in huge gains if not touchdowns. Receiver David Sills dropped a touchdown pass; though to be fair it wasn’t an easy catch. Nevertheless, a WVU fan had a right to be nervous leading 13-7 at the half.
West Virginia’s offense flexed their muscle in the third quarter as Grier threw three touchdown passes and the Mountaineers moved out to a 33-14 advantage. Perhaps the biggest play of the game came one play before Grier hooked up with Sills on a 33-yard touchdown pass. West Virginia had the opening possession of the second half and had third and seven on their own 35. If WVU went three out to open the half….who knows what may have happened. Instead Grier hit Marcus Simms on a quick slant and Simms broke a tackle and ran for a 32-yard gain. The next play was the beautiful 33-yard pitch and catch touchdown.
Grier had a huge game by the numbers. He completed 25 of 34 passes for 429 yards and five touchdowns. He spread the ball around too as 11 different Mountaineers caught passes. Sills caught seven of them for 140 yards and two touchdowns and Gary Jennings caught six for 113 yards and a score. Newcomer T.J. Simmons caught just one pass, but it was good for 59 yards and WVU’s first touchdown.
Martell Pettaway who led WVU with 56 yards on nine attempts led the running game. True freshman Leddie Brown had a productive debut with 33 yards on eight attempts. Kennedy McKoy was conspicuously absent from the game in the first half ran four times for 18 yards. Interestingly, McKoy didn’t appear in the game until late in the third quarter and caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Grier on his first play.
West Virginia will host Youngstown State this Saturday at 6:00 PM. AT&T Sportsnet, formerly ROOT Sports Pittsburgh, will televise the game.