The OWR Staff Predicts Tennessee-West Virginia

Photo Credit: Saturday Blitz

Tennessee football is BACK!

The Vols take on West Virginia in Charlotte on Saturday and our staff predicted the outcome of the game for your reading (and gambling) pleasure.

According to Las Vegas, Tennessee is currently a 10-point underdog and the over/under is 61.5. Let’s get to it…

Celina Summers (@CelinaSummers): 

When I look at the UT o-line, I get all tingly and stuff, because for the first time in years I see a line that will actually protect the quarterback — whoever that QB is. With Jarrett Guarantano battling for that #1 QB slot against Stanford grad transfer Keller Chryst, there are a lot of questions to answer. Fortunately, neither QB should be fleeing for their lives constantly this weekend against the Mountaineer defense, which is probably one of the most woeful units in the Big 12, a conference that is noted for its woeful defenses. As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, WVU allowed Kansas — godawful 1–11 Kansas — to rush for 367 yards last year. I can’t imagine that the UT RB corps isn’t licking their collective chops at the thought. Defensively, UT has a lot of questions to answer against one of the most veteran and high-flying offenses in the country. Will Grier, former Florida QB and GNC valued customer, is being mentioned for Heisman consideration. Make no mistake, folks: he’s got a group of receivers that will tear up secondaries all year and an offensive line that returns all but one from last year’s extraordinary unit. The battle in the trenches is a huge challenge for UT’s thin d-line to face.

Here’s what I expect. I expect a ridge-runnin’, pulse-pumpin’, high scorin’ game from both teams. I think that either Guarantano or Chryst can succeed against the woeful WVU defense, and whoever is most successful at that (if Pruitt runs both QBs) will help Marquez Callaway, Brandon Johnson, and Jauan Jennings (welcome home, Jauan!) to post huge numbers–mostly because the Mountaineers’ defense couldn’t stop a running back to save their lives. The WVU offense has some uncertainty at the RB position, and returns a veteran o-line that will be tough to get around. But Grier is an interception-prone QB if he’s under pressure, and for some reason I see him feeling a lot of pressure if the pass rush can get around the ends. At the end of the day, the team with the best defense is going to win…and UT’s secondary is going to be called upon to correct the horrors of the last few years. Consider the horrors corrected as the Vols put a stop to WVU’s pretensions and Will Grier’s Heisman hopes in a crazy game, escalating excitement about the Jeremy Pruitt era on Rocky Top.

Tennessee 42

West Virginia 39

John Monroe (@MinisterofD):

Football season is finally here, and as has become a trend in the past 7-8 years, the Vols will kickoff the season in a neutral site game. This year, Tennessee will go up against The West Virginia Mountaineers and Heisman candidate quarterback Will Grier.

The Vols come into the game as 10-point underdogs and for pretty good reason. There are quite a few questions revolving around the roster as Tennessee is coming off of their worst record in school history. West Virginia heads into the contest with one of the nation’s best offenses, but with a defense that last year was on par with the Vols, and actually gave up 49 more points to opponents in the regular season.

Going into Saturday’s matchup, everyone knows what West Virginia is going to bring. It’s the Vols that nobody is really sure of, and that makes this game a tough one to predict. If UT can put together a solid ground game with Tim Jordan and Ty Chandler, they may be able to control the clock and limit the scoring opportunities for the Mountaineers.

A WVU game to compare this to from last year is the Kansas State contest. The Mountaineers pulled off a 28-23 nail-biter over the Wildcats, all while outgaining them by 150 yards. The Wildcats controlled the clock, holding possession for 13 more minutes than West Virginia, with short passes and their running game. That’s exactly what Tennessee will need to do to pull off the upset in Charlotte.

On top of ball control, the Vols are going to need to hit Grier early and often. Grier likes long passes, so that should give Tennessee at least a little more time to get to him, and if they can’t, it may be a long day.

I’d love to call for a Vol win here, but I think there are just too many questions. It would certainly be easier if the Big Orange were able to flip the ETSU and West Virginia matchups on their schedule to get a warmup game under their belts. The Vols start slow, get it together in the end, but lose a close one.

Tennessee – 28

West Virginia – 34

Jordan Burns (@VolSportsTalkJB):

All off-season, the talk has been that the Mountaineers would handle the Vols, and that West Virginia has far too much firepower for Tennessee to withstand. QB Will Grier, Preseason All-American, returns to Morgantown, along with a talented receiving corps that consists of All-American WR David Sills V, along with Senior WR Gary Jennings Jr., who tallied 1,096 yards and Marcus Simms, who finished up with nearly 700 yards. However, the Mountaineer defense is suspect to say the least. It’s widely known that the Big 12 is lackluster when it comes to defense, and WVU is no different, specifically in the trenches. The Mountaineers gave up 204.8 ypg on the ground last season, finishing 104th in total defense. They also allowed lowly Baylor and Kansas to score 30+ points each.

What does this mean for Tennessee? Well, on offense the Vols will need to run the ball and eat clock, in order to keep the ball out of Grier’s hands. With the defensive line of West Virginia being weak, the Vols shouldn’t have much of a problem taking the ball through the trenches. Tennessee brings in Michigan State grad transfer RB Madre London to complement Sophomore RB Ty Chandler, who showed he had supreme talent last season when called upon. It also doesn’t hurt that Tennessee returns All-American OL Trey Smith and adds Alabama grad transfer C Brandon Kennedy.

It’s the secondary for Tennessee that worries me. The Vols, while okay at safety, don’t have any proven corners to match up with the receivers of WVU, and that’s certainly not an area you want to be weak in when you face the Mountaineers. The front seven will need to get up in Grier’s face early and often, and Tennessee certainly has the guys to get it done.

When it’s all said and done, the Mountaineers have more experience and talent on offense, and Tennessee simply can’t match up on paper. The Vols take this game into the fourth quarter, but Grier and company are too much to overcome in the end. Tennessee loses a close one, 31–27.

Tennessee 27

West Virginia 31

Matthew Dossett (@MatthewD9999):

Well, college football has finally arrived. Tennessee will square off with the Mountaineers of West Virginia on Saturday and on paper, you could make the argument that this is a mismatch in favor of West Virginia. WVU has a potent, high flying offense led by Heisman candidate Will Grier. Grier has a plethora of options at his disposal. He has weapons all over the field at wide receiver and tailback.

If you had to pinpoint a weakness with WVU, you could turn your attention to their defense, which should certainly cough up some points to the Volunteers. Last season, they were prone to giving up a load of points (31.5 per game, to be exact). I think that UT will look to churn clock and keep West Virginia’s offense off of the field. Look for a heavy dose of running backs Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan. Also, I would not count out Michigan State transfer Madre London getting some touches, especially in short yardage situations.

Whoever the starter at QB ends up being for the Big Orange, he needs to play virtually mistake-free football. This means no bonehead plays resulting in fumbles and interceptions. In 2017, with Jarrett Guarantano as the signal caller, Tennessee’s offensive line was akin to swiss cheese. The offensive front should be improved this year with the addition of Brandon Kennedy and others like Chance Hall returning from injury. It certainly won’t be perfect protection but it should be considerably better than a year ago.

I get the funny feeling that Tennessee has the advantage that WVU has no clue what to expect from Jeremy Pruitt’s boys. It will be a barn burner, but look for UT to get the W.

Tennessee 31

West Virginia 30

Charlie Burris (@Charlie_Burris): 

With college football finally here, I don’t know about you but I feel like rearing back and screaming like William Wallace at the end of Braveheart: FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOTBALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL

The beautiful game has returned and the Vols kick off their season against West Virginia in Charlotte. So, how does this matchup look for the Big Orange? Not nearly as bad as many national media outlets might lead you to believe.

Yes, WVU’s offense is going to be excellent. It will be dynamic, explosive, and difficult to stop. But will it be impossible to stop? No. If Tennessee can find a way to get into the backfield and put consistent pressure on Will Grier, everything could change. Force Grier into a few errant throws, and who knows where this game could go?

Not to mention, West Virginia’s defense is thin at best. Its players are undersized and inexperienced. This is a perfect formula for the Vols to score plenty and make this a shootout. But that’s also the main problem I see here for UT.

It looks like this will be a shootout. No matter how great Tennessee’s pass rush is, WVU should be able to score a fair amount of points and that will require the Vols to go blow for blow with what will likely be one of the best offenses in America in 2018. That’s a lot to ask for a squad that has many question marks and a brand new coaching staff.

I believe that UT will keep this game close and put on an ultimately impressive performance, but I don’t think it will be enough. I’m just not sure they can keep up with WVU’s offense.

Tennessee 31

West Virginia 38