Via UT Media Relations
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Tennessee fell to No. 17 West Virginia, 40-14, to open the 2018 season Saturday in the Belk College Kickoff at Bank of America Stadium.
The Volunteers now turn their focus to next Saturday’s home-opener against ETSU. Kickoff for that contest—which marks first-year UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt‘s Neyland Stadium debut—is set for 4 p.m. ET (SEC Network).
All-American West Virginia quarterback Will Grier led a high-powered Mountaineers offense that came to life in the second half—scoring 27 points over the final 30 minutes. Grier finished the game having completed 25 of 34 passes for 429 yards and five touchdowns.
Tennessee won the time of possession and played turnover-free football Saturday but was outgained 547-301 in total yardage. West Virginia averaged 9.0 yards per play on offense and totaled 12 tackles for loss on defense.
“We’ve got some things that we can go back and build on,” Pruitt said. “If we’d have won this game we’d been 1-0…We lost it, we’re 0-1. I’m not real happy about that but somebody’s going to lose and unfortunately today it was us. We can either wallow in it or we can sit here and figure out a way to make us better and I think that’s what our guys will try to do.”
After appearing in nine games and making six starts a season ago, redshirt sophomore Jarrett Guarantano earned the opening-day start at quarterback for the Vols and was 19-of-25 passing for 172 yards and a touchdown. His 19 completions were a career-high.
Sophomore running back Tim Jordan enjoyed his best game as a Vol, logging career-highs for carries (20) and rushing yards (118) and scoring his first collegiate touchdown. Marquez Callaway led the Tennessee receiving corps with a career-best seven catches for 85 yards.
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, Gurantano—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.
“There’s always something you can learn,” Tennessee starting offensive guard Ryan Johnson said of the setback. “Every game, every snap, has a lesson in it. We’re going to go back and focus on (ETSU) now.”
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.
The game’s attendance was 66,793.