Return of Grier, Sills Could Be Buoyed By Bowl Win
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia has built some momentum based upon little more than the promise of next season. What it needs now is a solid outing to head into the New Year.
The Mountaineers will return quarterback Will Grier and wideout David Sills, two key centerpieces of an offense that averaged more than 36 points and 485 yards this season. It’s given rise to a newfound sense of optimism heading into the Heart of Dallas Bowl versus Utah on Dec. 26 – almost to the point where the game is largely an afterthought for segments of the fan base.
One can hardly be blamed for such thoughts. The game date coming the day after Christmas, combined with two consecutive losses entering a mid-tier contest against a .500 team won’t do much to stir excitement. Bringing back what should be the odds on favorite as the Big 12’s best quarterback, along with the nation’s top pass catcher, certainly will when combined with a defense which should perform better.
But to truly carry that impetus into the offseason and make the bowl game a springboard rather than a cinder block upon which to finally set a busted season West Virginia needs a victory, which would get it to an eight-win year as opposed to one in which it lost a trio of consecutive games to end and barely avoided a .500 or worse mark.
“Our seniors have a chance to go out well,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “It reminds me of two years ago when we got to go play in the Cactus. We weren’t supposed to win and we went out there and won and it helped our juniors into a 10-win season (the next year). It’s going to be hard, but we want to send our seniors out with a win.I it’s our goal, it’s what we expect.
“We have some momentum. This would continue that.”
Holgorsen noted that the return of Grier for another year at WVU was the best recruiting get for the Mountaineers this year – and that with a class expected to finish in the top 20 of some services for he first time in school history. That Sills came on the back of that – the two being a sort largely a package deal, one able to complement the other – was another coup for the program.
“There’s just unfinished business here,” Holgorsen said of the reason both decided to return. “The unfinished business kinda hit home. I had to go re-recruit Sills for a third time. Who recruits one kid for a third time? That to me is kinda funny. It’s unfinished business. This coaching staff and this university and this state means a lot to both those kids.”
There’s some business left in 2017 as well, a bowl game win likely prodding an 8-5 West Virginia team into the national consciousness in the form of a top 20 preseason selection. Utah isn’t a darling this season, finishing 6-6 and needing a win in the regular season finale’ to become bowl eligible. But the Utes played Stanford, USC, Washington State and Washington to within a combined 15 points in a string of tight losses. All finished in the nation’s top 20 in the final College Football Playoff poll.
“It’s a quality opponent,” Holgorsen said. “I’m excited about this opportunity. Everything about their program is good. Really good players, they are well-coached, they have tradition. They are multiple with what they do. Their offensive line is huge. Great skill at the receivers. Two running backs that do a nice job. We are gonna have to defend a variety of things.
“They’ve recruited well and got big, thick kids on the D-line. They’re old. Seniors across the board. Multiple at what they do. Have rangy linebackers that cover, safeties who are rangy, downhill players. Corners who cover.”
Utah has excelled especially on the that side, where it yielded just 23.9 points per game despite playing in one of the nation’s most explosive conferences. The Utes allowed just 5.2 yards per play while limiting foes to 139.8 rushing yards per game. The offense struggled at times, using a pair of quarterbacks in Tyler Huntley and Troy Williams, the latter coming on in late September after an injury with the two sharing duties down the stretch.
Huntley is the better passer, hitting on 65.4 percent of his passes while becoming just the 11th player in school history with seven 200-yard passing games in a single season. Williams completed just 54.6 percent of his passes for two scores, but rushed for a team-best four TDs. Overall, Utah will be trying for its fifth consecutive bowl victory and 14th in 15 appearances.
“The thing that stands out more than anything is that coach (Kyle) Whittingham is 10-1 in bowl games,” said Holgorsen of the nation’s leading coach in postseason win percentage. “He has done a great job there. It started with Urban Meyer two years before that. We are excited about finishing work here and then going to Dallas. It’s the Big 12 headquarters, the hub, and it’s where we want to be to play for the championship.”
“We have prepped them for a week now. We will hit the reset button and prep them again in a game week for the 26th. I won’t let them go home (for Christmas). We just can’t. But after they will have about two weeks (off). Being able to spend a few days (in Dallas) to experience it will be good for our team.”