No. 17 West Virginia faces Tennessee; Vols start Pruitt era
No. 17 West Virginia (7-6 last season) vs. Tennessee (4-8) at Charlotte, North Carolina, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS).
Line: West Virginia by 10
Series record: First meeting
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
West Virginia wants to live up to its preseason ranking, launch QB Will Grier’s Heisman Trophy campaign and gain some positive momentum after closing the 2017 season on a three-game skid. Tennessee will try to show that things are changing under first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt after a 2017 season in which the Volunteers set a school record for losses.
West Virginia passing game vs. Tennessee pass defense. Pruitt coordinated the nation’s top defense at Alabama last season, but faces quite a challenge slowing down West Virginia’s aerial attack in his head coaching debut. West Virginia threw for 309.3 yards per game last season as WR David Sills caught 18 touchdown passes to tie for the FBS lead. Tennessee’s secondary is expected start at least one true freshman, with either Alontae Taylor or Bryce Thompson manning one cornerback spot.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
West Virginia: Grier. The Associated Press preseason All-American threw for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns in 11 games last season. He’s facing a Tennessee defense that intercepted just five passes last year.
Tennessee: OT Trey Smith: The Vols need a full healthy season from Smith, who missed spring practice to deal with blood clots in his lungs . Smith was a second-team all-Southeastern Conference pick as a true freshman last year and was the only Vol to earn all-SEC honors. Smith will start the season at left tackle.
FACTS & FIGURES
Tennessee owns a 5-0-1 record in season-opening games at neutral sites, including an overtime victory over Georgia Tech at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium last year. ... West Virginia has a 25-25-2 record against current SEC members. The Mountaineers have averaged 32 points per game in their last 11 matchups with SEC teams. ... Grier was Florida’s starting quarterback in 2015 when the Gators rallied from a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Tennessee 28-27. ... In Pruitt’s five seasons as a defensive coordinator, his teams went 23-6 against ranked opponents. Tennessee has gone 7-41 against ranked teams since 2008.
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