The West Virginia Mountaineers have had high expectations since the off-season began last year after a disappointing loss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Utah. With all of their core offensive players returning with a lot of experience, and all of the talk about the new and improved defense, this could be one of the most special years in West Virginia Football history.
The Mountaineers started this year off against a hopeful Tennessee team with a new head coach in Jeremy Pruitt looking to turn around their own football program with the young talent that they have. The West Virginia defense that was said to be drastically improved showed up early with constant pressure, and continued to keep the Vols from producing much of any offense the entire game. With the defense giving the offense a lot of opportunities, Heisman Trophy candidate Will Grier struggled throughout the first half not being able to put many points on the board with a lot of missed throws and forced plays. However, after an hour-long weather delay at halftime, Will Grier began to heat up and torched the Tennessee defense for 429 yards and 5 touchdowns. Two touchdowns and 140 of those yards went to David Sills V to help lead (17) West Virginia past Tennessee in dominant fashion, winning 40-14.
In the home opener against Youngstown State, a confident West Virginia team started out pretty poorly with Will Grier throwing his first interception of the season. He once again proceeded to bounce back tremendously displaying not only his throwing accuracy but also his arm strength passing for another 300+ yard game with 4 touchdowns. Marcus Simms lead the team in receiving yards putting up an impressive 119 yards on 8 receptions, however, he failed to find the end zone. The third wide receiver in this veteran corp, Gary Jennings, who struggled to find the end zone last year, has done nothing but find the end zone so far this year. This season, he has caught 4 of Grier’s 9 touchdown passes, 3 of which coming against Youngstown State. David Sills V had a quiet 2 catches for 33 yards looking to get back on track in his next appearance. The Mountaineer defense looked dominant once again and the (14) West Virginia continued to roll with a 52-17 drumming of the Penguins.
West Virginia’s next match-up against NC State had been canceled in preparation for Hurricane Florence that touched down in the Carolinas last week. The two organizations tried numerous times to work out an agreement and reschedule the game, however, nothing has worked out so far, and there are no plans to try and reschedule the game at the moment. This game against NC State was supposed to be a resume builder and a confidence booster heading into conference play, but the team will not take the field until September 22nd to play against Kansas State in their Big 12 opener. With West Virginia now playing one less game than most of the Top 25, the thought of the Mountaineers facing a big disadvantage in the poll system and potentially the College Football Playoffs was a concern. However, the Mountaineers still managed to move up two spots in the AP Poll to No. 12, and the concern has been tossed out the window.
With a tough conference schedule, the Mountaineers hope to make a name for themselves with the selection committee, but won’t get their biggest test until their last game of the regular season against Kyler Murray and the Oklahoma Sooners. This is going to be one for the record books as Will Grier and the Mountaineers will likely be trying to spoil the Sooners’ playoff hopes as they could potentially propel themselves into the College Football Playoffs if they work their way up the rankings throughout conference play. A key game that could set West Virginia up for success heading into the game against Oklahoma is going to be the matchup against TCU. With TCU being in the Top 25 at No. 15, if the Mountaineers can win decisively, it can be a huge boost in confidence and a resume builder which would make a win over Oklahoma that much sweeter.
This football team has an opportunity to have a really special season. With 8 weeks left there is a lot to look forward to and a lot of hype to live up to, but if any team is ready to take on the challenge, it is the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Mike Gourley is a senior and member of the Multimedia Journalism Class.