West Virginia football vs. Tennessee: Time, TV schedule, game preview, score
Mountaineers and Volunteers battle in season opener
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Dana Holgorsen has changed his scheduling philosophy since taking over West Virginia eight years ago, trading in early-season contests against FCS foes for the likes of Virginia Tech, Penn State and Alabama in an attempt to build a national powerhouse.
The 17th-ranked Mountaineers open this season against a Power 5 opponent for the fourth time in five years Saturday when they play a Tennessee program coming off a school-record eight losses in the Belk College Kickoff in Charlotte, N.C.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: West Virginia -10
“Obviously we like it - and it’s not going to end anytime soon,” Holgorsen told reporters. “If you talk non-conference schedules in general, I think there needs to be more of a uniformed policy across the country for people doing this. ... I think the biggest thing is we’ve got 11 Power 5 games on our schedule and there are some other teams out there that have eight.”
Holgorsen has his best team since arriving in Morgantown in 2011 and it is led by Heisman hopeful Will Grier, who ranked second in the country with 34 touchdown passes and third with 3,490 yards passing last season before suffering a season-ending broken finger in November.
New Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, a former defensive coordinator at Alabama, takes over a defense that was besieged by injuries last season, allowing 29.1 points per game - its most since 2012 - and a gaudy 251 yards rushing per contest.
The Volunteers also had problems on offense, ranking last in the SEC in scoring at 19.8 points - down from 36.4 the previous season - and total offense at 291 yards per game while going over a month without scoring an offensive touchdown.
ABOUT TENNESEE (2017: 4-8)
Jarrett Guarantano, who went 4-2 as a starter last season and completed 62 percent of his 139 passes for 997 yards with four TDs and two interceptions, is expected to start at quarterback.
Graduate transfer Keller Chryst, 11-2 as starter at Stanford the last two years (54.2 completion percentage, 962 yards, eight TDs, four Interceptions) is also expected to contribute.
With John Kelly (778 yards, nine TDs) off to the Los Angeles Rams, sophomore Ty Chandler (305 yards, 4.3 yards per carry) will have a chance to take over as the feature back and take a crack at a West Virginia defense that yielded 204 yards per game in 2017.
ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA (2017: 7-6)
Grier (64.4 completion percentage, 12 interceptions) will have two big-time targets returning: senior wide receiver David Sills V (60 receptions, 960 yards), who tied for the national lead with 18 TD receptions last season, and Gary Jennings Jr. (Big-12 leading 97 receptions, 1,096 yards).
The Mountaineers return four offensive line starters - three earning preseason Big 12 recognition - to open holes for running backs Kennedy McCoy (596 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, seven TDs), Martell Pettaway and freshman Alec Sinkfield.
If West Virginia is going to contend for the Big 12 title, Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson need to improve a defense that surrendered 31.5 points and 446 yards per game - both most since 2013.
1. Both teams enter on three-game losing streaks; the Vols lost seven of their last eight and were 0-8 in conference play last season.
2. Tennessee OL Trey Smith, second-team All-SEC and freshman All-American last season, is expected to play either guard or tackle Saturday. He missed spring practice after suffering blood clots in his lungs.
3. Tennessee has won nine straight openers but is 6-34 against ranked teams over the last eight seasons.
PREDICTION: West Virginia 42, Tennessee 24
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