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Tennessee 2018 opponent preview: Looking at a stiff week one test against West Virginia

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Tough opening weekend for the Vols.

NCAA Football: Texas at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

If Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt wants to get an early season feel for how his Vols’ defense will perform this season, he’s going to get that opportunity against the West Virginia Mountaineers on September 1 in Charlotte.

The Mountaineers, who went 7-6 overall and 5-4 in Big 12 play last year, have all the ingredients in place to produce a high powered offense led by quarterback Will Grier.

Grier, according to West Virginia coach Dana Holgerson, has all the tools to play in the NFL. He was second in the nation with 34 TDs and third in passing yardage with 3,490 before a broken finger in November ended his season.

Grier, a Florida transfer that Tennessee fans are already familiar with, is in his second season with the Mountaineers and has a gunslinger mentality according to Holgorsen. Holgorsen wants Grier to know when to make the routine play but doesn’t want to reign in his talented quarterback too much.

The Mountaineers’ quarterback should have plenty of weapons to throw to, including David Stills V, who led the nation with 18 touchdowns. He also has senior Gary Jennings who led the Big 12 with 97 receptions and 1,096 yards last season.

T J. Simmons, a former Alabama receiver brings his talents to WVU. Holgerson is high on him along with Miami tight end transfer Jovani Haskins. Returning TE Trevor Wesco, 6’4”, 240, also adds to the variety of passing weapons.

Holgorsen is excited about how good his offense can be in a conference that rarely lacks firepower. The running game needs some work as star running back Justin Crawford heads to the NFL. West Virginia ranked 5th in the Big 12 last year on the ground. 6’5”, 308 pound Yodny Cajuste and 6’7”, 306 pound Colton McKivitz bookend the offensive line.

Defensively, USC transfer Kenny Bigelow could anchor the line at defensive tackle if he can stay healthy. Bigelow was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA due to injuries. Maybe he can ease the blow of freshman All-American defensive tackle Lamone McDougle leaving the team. Safety Dravon Askew-Henry leads the backfield as a three year starter.

The Mountaineers did have some turnover issues, finishing at -7 last year. That ranked 105th in the nation. If they can clean that up and improve the run game enough to compliment Grier’s efforts, they could be a force in the Big 12.

A match-up with the Volunteers could prove to be a good test to start the season.