The first game of the Jeremy Pruitt era didn’t go how Tennessee wanted.
The Vols saw West Virginia pull away in the second half as Tennessee dropped a 40-14 decision in the Belk College Kickoff.
“What went from being a very close football game…basically with a little bit lack of execution, and execution on their part…gets out of hand just like that,” Pruitt said after the game. “ That’s what happens when you have a team that’s very well coached, he’s got a good trigger man, knows how to protect, and knows what he’s doing with the football. He does a great job.”
“You can try to disguise and muddy the looks all you want, the guy’s got a lot of experience and he’s got some really good receivers on the other side that made some plays.”
It was the first meeting between the two schools.
The Mountaineers opened the game’s scoring with a 26-yard field goal on their first offensive possession. They then extended their lead to 10-0 via a 59-yard touchdown pass by Grier with less than four minutes to play in the first quarter.
Tennessee’s first scoring drive of the Pruitt era was an impressive, 17-play march that covered 78 yards in 8:47 in the second quarter. On fourth-and-goal from the WVU 1-yard line, Jarrett Gaurantano—who completed five of six passes during the drive—found first-year tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson in the end zone to cut the Mountaineers’ lead to three, 10-7.
West Virginia added a field goal as the second-quarter clock expired to take a 13-7 lead into halftime.
WVU’s first two possessions of the third quarter both ended with Grier touchdown passes. His second and third TD strikes of the day went to David Sills V and Gary Jennings, and the Vols found themselves facing a 20-point deficit.
The Vols were quick to counter with a 4-yard scoring scamper by Jordan. His first career touchdown capped a five-play, 75-yard drive for the Big Orange.
But another Grier touchdown strike, which came on the ensuing drive, pushed the WVU lead to 19 points (the Mountaineers’ attempt at a two-point conversion failed). A fifth Grier TD toss with two minutes remaining in the game brought the final score to 40-14.
Saturday’s game featured an 85-minute halftime due to a weather delay (lightning strikes within an eight-mile radius) that began after the teams left the field.
Guarantano was 19-of-25 passing for 172 yards and a touchdown. Jordan finished with 118 yards on 20 carries, while Marquez Calloway had 85 yards on seven catches.
“Offensively for us in the first half we really shot ourselves in the foot,” Pruitt said. “Those guys did a really good job mixing up the looks. Way too many negative plays…too many negative plays, we got behind the down and distance. We put a good drive together, 17 plays at one point, got us back in the football game and we did some good things as the game went.”
“There’s a lot of positives, lot of positives, but the most important thing is who wins and loses the game. We didn’t win today and West Virginia did and they deserved to win,” Pruitt added.
Grier led the Mountaineers as he went 25-of-35 for 429 yards. In all, West Virginia had 547 total offensive yards compared to Tennessee’s 301.
Tennessee now turns their attention to ETSU as the Vols will
return to Neyland Stadium, kickoff on the SEC Network is set for 4 p.m.