Mountaineers Ready To Up The Quarterback Ante With Will Grier
By Bob Hertzel
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It’s difficult to imagine what West Virginia football will be like this season with Will Grier at quarterback.
What isn’t difficult to imagine is what it would have been like without him.
Let’s face it, Dana Holgorsen’s and Jake Spavital’s offense is quarterback centric and it needs a quarterback who stands tallest of all on offense. That wasn’t there until the Mountaineers got the go-ahead to activate the man they were counting on all along, a quarterback who has played half a season of collegiate football in the toughest conference you can imagine and has never lost.
Think about that. There are not many quarterbacks in the SEC without an Alabama uniform on their back who string together six consecutive victories as Grier did at Florida, let alone as freshmen. And now he’s here, and if Grier can shake off the rust from a year of game inactivity, he should give WVU the weapon it needs.
Yeah, the Mountaineers have done a great job in the absence of a star QB of converting to a game built around running backs and defense, with Skyler Howard and Clint Trickett willing success to the team rather than creating it. In some ways it was more like a modernized version of Don Nehlen football, for if you go back and look at the big games and the great teams in Nehlen’s career, he wasn’t always running All-American QBs out there.
They were good, even great, in the case of Major Harris and Marc Bulger, but as you look upon some of the games and moments for WVU, the heroics came elsewhere. Harris, for example, in 1988 on the team that played Notre Dame for the national championship faced and beat a couple of nationally ranked teams — Pitt (16) and Syracuse (14). WVU won both by nearly identical scores, 31-10 and 31-9.
And Harris played similar games, completing 5-of-12 passes against Pitt for 61 yards and one touchdown, while running 10 times for 55 yards and no scores. He then hit 8-of-16 passes for 114 yards and no scores while running 20 times for 96 yards and no scores against Syracuse.
When they needed him most at the top of his game, against the Irish in the Fiesta Bowl, Harris was injured early, then gutted it out but wasn’t the great player he could be as he rushed 13 times for 11 yards and threw for 166 yards with one TD and an interception.
Bulger was among the quarterbacks who really dominated as a pure passer at West Virginia, but he didn’t have the great team to play on, so it wasn’t really until Rich Rodriguez brought Pat White in and turned him loose that the quarterback became the key to all WVU was doing.
What White meant to the team was more evident during that 2007 season when WVU was perched to win the national championship, for he was injured and split playing time with Jarrett Brown in both the South Florida loss and Pitt loss that season. Then, when they needed him most, the program teetering in disarray and Steve Slaton injured, White took it upon himself to beat Oklahoma, rushing 20 times for 150 yards, completing 10-of-19 throws for 176 yards and two TDs, including a 79-yard scoring strike to Tito Gonzales that sparked a win in the Fiesta Bowl.
The reins were tossed to Geno Smith as a sophomore in 2010 under Bill Stewart, and when Holgorsen arrived the next year, the whole offense was tossed to him and Smith set about breaking nearly every passing record as WVU went to the Orange Bowl. He then threw for six TDs in a runaway victory over Clemson in that postseason victory.
In Smith’s senior year of 2012, WVU faithful were making plans to play for the national title as he led them to five straight victories to start the season, while throwing 24 TD passes, including eight to go with 656 yards against Baylor. But the five straight wins turned into five straight losses as everything went wrong, including Smith’s play, and the team unraveled.
Now, that taste is back, last really experienced from that Orange Bowl win to the five straight victories. Holgorsen seems to have his man at quarterback and there’s no powerhouse team in the Big 12, so the season, of now, is ripe with anticipation.