Position Glance: WVU Quarterbacks
By Greg Hunter
The question at quarterback for West Virginia this coming season isn’t so much about who but about how.
Florida transfer Will Grier proved himself this spring at WVU, and he certainly appears ready to resume the level of play he showed while leading the Gators to a 6-0 start in 2015. He’s without question West Virginia’s starting QB.
Technically Grier still needs cleared by the NCAA for a one-year suspension that was imposed when he tested positive for PEDs while at Florida. But Mountaineer officials are very confident that Grier, who has missed 20 games since that suspension was imposed, will be eligible to start West Virginia’s season opener on Sept. 3 against Virginia Tech.
Grier, who completed 106-of-161 of his passes (65.8 percent) for 1,204 yards with 10 TDs and three interceptions during his six games at UF as a redshirt freshman, has a hammerlock on the starting job.
Thus the biggest questions regarding the QB position at WVU are how Grier adapts to the Dana Holgorsen/Jake Spavital offensive system and who will serve as the backups. Having sparkled in the spring game, where he completed 12-of-18 passes for 202 yards, Grier seems to be adapting very nicely. But the depth behind the fourth-year junior is still in question.
Chris Chugunov served as WVU’s only backup last year behind since-graduated Skyler Howard. A redshirt freshman, Chugunov received limited opportunities in 2016, and he connected on just 2-of-5 passes for 15 yards with no TDs and one interception during that time. His performance in this year’s spring game (10-of-22 for 98 yards with no touchdowns or INTs) also wasn’t awe-inspiring, so he’s still got progress to make if he wants to lock down the No. 2 quarterback job moving forward.
The challengers to Chugunov have their own questions, though. Cody Sanders, who was a true freshman last season, recently announced that he was going to have to end his football career because of a shoulder injury. Saunders’ departure leaves Grier and Chugunov as the only scholarship quarterbacks at WVU at the moment, and it didn’t scholarship a high school QB in this recruiting class. Thus to give themselves more depth, the Mountaineers pulled in a junior college quarterback late in the process. David Isreal, who was the starting QB for Butler (Kansas) Community College last year as a true freshman, was eligible to transfer to an FBS program right away and will have four years to use his three seasons of eligibility once he arrives at WVU. Isreal is slated to enroll at WVU thus summer, and he will compete with Chugunov for the backup job this fall. Isreal also has a redshirt year available if West Virginia’s coaches decide that is the best choice. In addition, the Mountaineers have the services of walk-on Jack Bueltel, a 6-foot, 176-pound true freshman from Naples, Fla., who enrolled at WVU at the beginning of June.
With Holgorsen having turned the play calling duties over to Spavital, the Mountaineer offense will have a little bit different look this coming season, no matter what the quarterback situation. And with a strong running back contingent, led by senior running back Justin Crawford (1,184 rushing yards in 2016), WVU is still going to emphasize its ground game.
“I think Crawford is one of the top runners in the country,” said Spavital, who previously served as West Virginia’s quarterback coach in 2011-12 before becoming the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M (2013-15) and Cal (2016) and then returning to WVU this winter. “You want to get that guy the ball as many times as you can. When you have a talented kid like Grier and a talented running back, you have to find that happy balance. You have to get a kid like Crawford his touches, but you also want to be able to showcase Will’s arm, because he can do some things that most other quarterbacks can’t.
“With my time around Will, I think he’s very cerebral; he’s a coach’s kid, so he has a very good understanding of football,” added Spavital. “He’s athletic enough to extend plays. When he gets out of the pocket, he’s actually a threat to gain some serious yardage. The main thing about him is his poise, and I think he’s got a very talented arm. I think it’s going to be fun to see where we can take him.”