3. How much time will Will Grier have to throw?
Speaking of big plays, this is the biggest focus for Tennessee football on defense. Let’s be clear about something here. Will Grier is going to get a few big plays in the game. He is too good of a quarterback, and West Virginia has too much returning talent at receiver.
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Meanwhile, the Vols have too many issues in the secondary. The only player they can really rely on at this moment is Nigel Warrior, and he can’t cover the entire field sideline to sideline. As a result, Grier will make plays.
The best thing for the Vols to do is to find a way to get some big plays on their own to kill drives. This is where the pass rush comes in. Last year, Grier was one of the worst quarterbacks in the country under pressure, but he was the best in the Big 12 when protected.
Grier has 12 interceptions for a reason. Teams that can get to him can force mistakes. At that point, it won’t matter what the receivers do. The Vols will have the advantage. The good news for them is they have the players to get to Grier.
Jonathan Kongbo and Darrell Taylor are proven elite pass-rushers. Kyle Phillips, when healthy, can do it off the end as well, and despite playing in the middle, this is Daniel Bituli’s speciality as well. WVU, however, has four of five starters returning on the offensive line. So getting to Grier won’t be as easy as it looks.
Whomever wins this pass rush battle is going to have a huge impact on the game. If the Vols can hit Grier a lot, they can force a lot of bad plays. Just hitting them a few times may give them enough turnovers to win. They took the opposite approach when he beat them with the Florida Gators in 2015. That can’t happen again.