Was it lightning or was it second-half muscle?
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Neutral field. Against Rocky Top and the Big Orange.
After a grinding first half came a lengthy lightning delay.
And then West Virginia, with Will Grier throwing five touchdown passes, dominated Tennessee in the second half, to open its season with a 40-14 win over the Volunteers in a game played in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The sometimes sputtering Mountaineers took a 13-7 lead into intermission. And then waited out about a 75-minute weather delay, before coming back to outscore the Vols, 27-7, in the second half.
Grier was given masterful time to throw in the second half. And showed why his Heisman Trophy stock is a solid buy, by throwing four scoring throws in the second half. David Sills V caught two of Grier’s TD passes with Gary Jennings, T.J. Simmons and Kennedy McKoy each getting in to the scoring act themselves.
Grier finished his nationally televised show by completing 25-of-34 passes from 429 yards, without an interception.
Sills V, another preseason All-America type, had seven receptions for 140 yards, while Jennings caught six balls for 113 yards.
West Virginia manufactured 547 yards of total offense, while the Vols managed 301 yards.
Both teams were trying to blot out the memories of their last games from the 2017 season. Tennessee had lost ingloriously to Vanderbilt, to close a dust-laden 4-8 season that included a 0-8 record in Southeastern Conference games. West Virginia finished with a lethargic loss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, when stopped by Utah.
A short field goal had the Mountaineers ahead, 13-7, at the intermission.
While in the dressing room, a large patch of dark clouds loomed nearby. Game officials temporarily suspended play because of the threat of a lightning strike, and the game didnt resume for more than one hour.
When play resumed, it was West Virginia with the impressively protected Grier that took control.
With the senior quarterback throwing to Sills V, Jennings and McKoy in the third period alone, West Virginia’s increasing lead went to 33-14.
Led by David Long’s nine tackles, the Mountaineer defense mostly handled Tennessee’s attempts at any sort of comeback. The Vols could claim only one touchdown as the scoring space between themselves, and the Mountaineers only widened.
Next up for West Virginia is a visit from Youngstown State’s Penguins at Puskar Stadium. After that home field debut, the Mountaineers will travel to Raleigh to face North Carolina State, a team that lost scads of seniors from its 2017 team, which won nine games.
Grier made a comfortable start to his 2018 season after missing the last of the 2017 season, including the bowl game, with a hand injury. And the Mountaineers kept Tennessee from being the menace some people thought it could be, under first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt, just over from Alabama where he had been Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator.