The first play of the game pretty much told the story. Opening at their own 25 yard line, Tennessee called a pass for the first play of the Jeremy Pruitt era. Jarrett Guarantano accepted the ball from under center, stepped back to pass and was planted in the turf by West Virginia nose guard Kenny Bigelow, a 5-star recruit and USC transfer, forcing a fumble that the Vols recovered for a 10-yard loss — not quite the disaster it could have been, but, still, demonstrative of the difference between a team of well-traveled veterans with eyes on a Big 12 and national championship against a young team just figuring things out.
The No. 17 Mountaineers forced a three-and-out on that opening possession, got on the board with their first touch and never really felt threatened, cruising to a 40-14 win at the Belk College Kickoff in Charlotte.
After taking a 3-0 lead, West Virginia (1-0) put the first of many Will Grier touchdown passes on the board, a 59-yard strike to T.J. Simmons.
Tennessee (0-1) pulled within 10-7 midway through the second quarter thanks to a 17-play, 78-yard drive that consumed nearly nine minutes, culminating in a 1-yard toss from Guarantano to Dominick Wood-Anderson on fourth-and-goal.
West Virginia put a second Evan Staley field goal on the board to take a 13-7 lead at halftime, then stretched its legs with two more Grier touchdown passes. Tennessee added the second of its two scores at the 6:09 mark of the third quarter with a 4-yard Tim Jordan rush, but the Mountaineers put the game away for good with two more Grier scoring strikes.
The Heisman hopeful hit a Heisman-like 25-of-34 passes for 429 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions; the 429 yards were a career-high for Grier, and the handful of touchdowns tied his career high. David Sills was once again Grier’s favorite target, hauling in seven passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Gary Jennings, Jr., added six grabs for 113 yards and a score.
Guarantano finished the day connecting on 19-of-25 passes for 172 yards with a score, and Jordan led all runners with 20 carries for 118 yards and a score.