The Jeremy Pruitt era won’t be beginning with a cupcake opponent. The Vols will open 2018 with the West Virginia Mountaineers, which feature one of the nation’s most potent offenses. Leading the charge for that unit will be Will Grier, who Tennessee already has painful history with.
According to an ESPN panel, Grier is the best passer in the country. Five out of seven analysts placed the Mountaineers’ quarterback in their No. 1 slot. Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Penn State’s Trace McSorley were the other two signal callers to receive votes.
ESPN’s Alex Scarborough names the Vols specifically, highlighting what looks like a lopsided matchup for Grier.
Grier might throw for 500 yards against Tennessee’s dilapidated defense Week 1. And he might not look back all season long, building off of last season’s already impressive totals of 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns passing. With most of the line and receivers back, including touchdown machine David Sills, the Mountaineers offense should be prolific.
There are a few things at work with this matchup. Number one — West Virginia’s offense is going to be really good. Outside of Grier, the Mountaineers return receivers David Sills V (18 touchdowns in 2017) and Gary Jennings (1,000 yards in 2017).
Number two — there are a ton of unknowns on the Tennessee defense. Those unknowns certainly won’t be answered by week one, either. The Vols replace four contributors at cornerback and still need a consistent pass rush to emerge. Frankly, the answer to those two question marks might not be on the roster yet.
Tennessee will also be in game one of their new defensive scheme, which will feature a 3-4 base. That defense got ripped in the spring game by Tennessee’s first team offense. Plenty can change through camp, but on the surface this seems like a worst case scenario matchup for Tennessee — at least on one side of the ball.
The Vols’ offense has a chance to be pretty good early on, I think. Can they keep up with West Virginia in week one, though? I’m probably not counting on that.
The good news is that this game isn’t the end of the road. It’s just the beginning. If Tennessee is showing signs of life throughout the year and looking competitive with mid-tier SEC teams, you can consider 2018 a success.