Holgs on Va Tech, Will Grier & The Lack of a Pep Talk Need In The Opener
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia won’t need a pep talk for this one.
Not with months of build-up, and a marquee foe ranked in the Top 25 to start the season. That the Hokies are also a longtime rival, and the bane of many a homegrown Mountaineer, only fuels the fire of the first meeting in a dozen years.
Add in a Sunday night kick for good measure, if you will. Because as WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen sees it, he’s been ready to play for the better part of a fortnight now, and his team seems to be equally champing at the bit.
“Excited about it,” Holgorsen said. “The whole situation is going to be a lot of fun. It’s gonna be really cool starting with the venue. Neutral site game, Sunday night game, national TV, no NFL. The ticket sales have been really good for both fan bases. It’s going to be a great atmosphere with a holiday weekend in D.C. The rivalry, getting it started back up. There’s not gonna be anything more important than keeping everybody ground to play this game. I’m not gonna need to give them a pep talk.”
This will be the 52nd all-time meeting between the rivals, with West Virginia holding a 28-22-1 edge. But WVU lost two in a row to end the series in 2004 and ’05, and though the players were no older than nine at the time, the sting remains with the fan base.
“This week is all about Virginia Tech,” Holgorsen said. “We have watched it, we have game planned it, but this will really hammer it home. Keeping the players focused will be big.
“Things that stand out? A lot of respect for (Virginia Tech head coach) Justin Fuente. His two stops at TCU and Memphis were incredibly impressive. Did a great job of getting TCU’s offense going, then went to Memphis and turned that thing around. He took it over in shambles and three to four years later he’s among the hottest coaches in the country. Not surprising he was the ACC Coach of the Year and got those guys to 10 wins and a bowl game. It’s impressive.”
Holgorsen called Fuente a “great offensive mind” and noted he would be interested to see what Virginia Tech does with a new quarterback in redshirt freshman Josh Jackson. Jackson has yet to take a snap at the major college level, but the maturation of the Michigan native has been lauded by Tech’s coaching staff. It’ll be a difficult match-up for both sides, as the Hokies’ offense replaces six starters, while WVU’s defense returns just three, with an entirely new front and a second straight rebuild at corner.
On the flip side, Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster brings back seven starters, including all three linebackers, both corners and free safety Terrell Edmunds, who slid from the rover spot to free safety to provide added security on the back end. It poses a significant challenge for West Virginia, which will see arguably its best opposing defense this season in the opener.
“You can’t think of Virginia Tech without thinking of Bud Foster,” Holgorsen said. “Back when I was a young coach and hadn’t done anything ins this profession, we still followed Bud Foster and what he did. This defense is good. They have everybody back. This may be his best unit from what I understand. You watch them and they were an incredibly good defense last year. It’s a challenge.”
Among the answers will be quarterback Will Grier. The former Florida starter will take his first game snaps in 22 months, and look to build upon a 6-0 start at the college level as a Gator, including wins over SEC foes Tennessee and Ole Miss. Grier completed 106-of-161 passes (65.8 percent) for 1,204 yards and 10 touchdowns with three interceptions. The Parade prep player of the year as a high school senior, Grier spent last season on West Virginia’s scout team before earning the starting spot in the offseason.
Grier will be helped by a line boasting right guard Kyle Bosch and the return of tackle Yodny Cajuste, who is back after missing last season after an ACL tear in the opener versus Missouri. WVU also returns three proven running backs in Justin Crawford, the Big 12’s leading rusher last season, along with Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway.
“Everybody knows we are going to try to run the ball,” Holgorsen said. “We’re anticipating (Foster) doing what he needs to do to stop it. (Grier’s) ready to go. Lot of talk about him. He finally gets to play football again. He likes to practice, likes to prepare, likes to get out and compete. I’m anxious to finally see him in a live setting to where he can finally cut it loose a little bit.
“He’s our quarterback. Our job is to protect him a bit how we call things and his job is to play within himself and run our offense how we look to run it. There’s question marks anytime you have a new quarterback. We both fall into the same boat on that. That said, there have been plenty of times you find some new ways of doing things, nuances that nobody knows in game one. There is always a level of uncertainty going into game one.”