Too Many Carries For WVU’s Will Grier?
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — The word all through the spring and the summer leading into West Virginia’s 2017 football season was that quarterback Will Grier would not be running the football very often.
It wasn’t, head coach Dana Holgorsen assured, because he couldn’t, but more because he shouldn’t.
First of all, he wasn’t Major Harris or Pat White, not even Skyler Howard, when it came to carrying the ball. Then there the matter of him being the key asset of the offense without proven backup, so why risk him as a runner when you have four or five running backs all capable of running?
He was, it turned out, a weapon running the ball. The 11 carries were not only second only to Justin Crawford, but just two carries less than the featured back, and while his average gain per play was 4.7, less than the team average of 6.3 yards, it was dragged down by a couple of busted up passing plays.
What transpired even surprised his own offensive linemen.
“I wasn’t expecting to see him leave the pocket,” admitted senior guard Kyle Bosch. “I was expecting him to sit in the pocket and make plays, not hurdling guys on the 20-yard line. That was pretty impressive.”
That play led to probably the best photo to come out of the game, of Grier hurdling a Tech defender as he scrambled on that final drive that fell short for one of three first downs he picked up on the ground.
It was the kind of stuff Howard tried, although didn’t always accomplish.
“I don’t know if he would have cleared that guy,” Bosch said of the athleticism Grier showed on the play compared to Howard. “They are very similar in that regard. They are both competitors. Skyler didn’t didn’t have all the physical gifts that Will has, but they are both competitors. That’s the best thing you can have in a quarterback.”
Grier’s escapability added a dimension to the WVU offense that wasn’t expected, but it also took about five years off of Holgorsen’s life and he doesn’t want to see Will Grier carrying the ball as often in the future.
“We need to get the ball into other people’s hands more than his,” Holgorsen allowed this week. “We don’t want Will to carry the ball as much as he did.”
Holgorsen knows he has to run some, just to make the defense account for him.
“If it’s a couple of quarterback run plays and he gets a first down, then great. But it has to be wide open for him to do that,” Holgorsen said.
But it shouldn’t be a feature of the offense.
Of course, when it’s the only option, that’s different.
“When the game is on the line, he needs to do anything and everything that he has to do to get first downs, and he did,” Holgorsen said, noting that he picked up three first downs on the final drive.
“I knew that about him. He did that at Florida. But we’re trying to control that a little bit as much as we possibly can. It doesn’t bring a different dynamic to it.”
In fact, over the next few games — against lesser opponents than Virginia Tech — it might be wise for Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital to write Grier runs out of the offense.
With his stable of running backs and probably a superiority on the offensive line, the running attack probably should come forward as it did a year ago to keep Grier healthy for key games later in the season.
Running at least 50 percent — and maybe as much as 60 percent — might be the way to go if these games turn out to be one-sided and with this weekend’s opponent being an East Carolina team that lost to James Madison, then a dismal Delaware State program followed by Big 12 traditional cellar-dweller Kansas, Holgorsen ought to be able to do what he wants on offense.
And what he wants most is to make sure he has Grier around when Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Kansas State are lining up on the other side of the ball.