With Grier Returning, Excitement Remains Despite Bowl Loss
DALLAS – Hope peeked out from between the cracks of disappointment.
Despite West Virginia’s historically bad offensive performance in its 30-14 Heart of Dallas Bowl loss to Utah – you have to go back more than 70 years to find out the last time WVU had fewer than the six first downs it accumulated against the Utes – the Mountaineers look ahead to 2018 with a great deal of optimism about that same offense.
Last week three West Virginia juniors (quarterback Will Grier, wide receiver David Sills and offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste) who each have very realistic NFL aspirations, all announced they would return for one more season at WVU.
None of the three were much of a factor Tuesday at the Cotton Bowl stadium. Grier (hand injury) and Cajuste (hamstring injury) were unable to play, and Sills, an All-American in his first full season as a receiver, was held without a catch within a Mountaineer offense that amassed just 153 total yards (124 passing and 29 rushing).
But with all three returning next year, plus ever other offensive starter in the bowl game other than offensive guard Grant Lingafelter, fullback Elijah Wellman and receiver Ka’Raun White, optimism remains rampant at WVU despite the disappointment of the Utah stomping
Grier, the Big 12 newcomer of the year, missed most of West Virginia’s last three outings after dislocating his middle finger and breaking a bone to his throwing hand early in the Nov. 18 loss to Texas. The Mountaineer offense was averaging over 340 passing yards a game when Grier went to the sideline and eventually the surgical ward. It averaged just 150 yards a game after that, losing three straight to end the season 7-6.
“I had never missed a game because of injury before, so this last month was tough,” explained Grier. “The Oklahoma game was really rough because there was so little time to get used to the idea. But I tried to come to grips with it and support my guys. It was hard to sit out, though.”
Without Grier behind center, the Mountaineers turned to backup Chris Chugunov. Despite Grier’s best advise, the sophomore struggled in the face of a strong Utah pass rush, completing just nine-of-28 passes for 129 yards with one TD and two interceptions.
“I tried to help Chris anyway I could, anything he needed,” explained Grier. “I told him to just control what he could control. A big part of being a quarterback is managing the game and controlling the controllables. Sometimes you get caught up trying to be perfect, but a quarterback must manage the game.”
Now sans his brace and bandage, Grier’s surgically-repaired hand is on the mend.
“I wish I could start throwing now, but I’m waiting for clearance from the doctor,” he noted. “I’ll be out there the day I get that clearance.”
Once he’s cleared to start throwing again, which should come in the next month, he and his Mountaineer teammates will turn their attention on the 2018 season.
“It’s a long process, a long offseason, and we’re just going to try to get a day better every day,” said Grier a few moments after the bowl loss. “We’re excited to start that process. We would have liked to have gotten a win today, but all we can do is move forward and try to get a day better.
“We had a pretty good offense this year, but we will fine tune some things and be really good next year,” he added. “I’m excited to work through the entire process, because it is a process. We’ve got the tools to be very good, and I’m really looking forward to the product we put on the field next year.”
A native of Davidson, N.C., Grier and the Mountaineers will open the 2018 season a few miles down I-77 in Charlotte against Tennessee on Sept. 1.
“It’s going to be fun game. Charlotte is basically my home, and it’s a cool place and I’m really looking forward to playing there,” noted Grier.
“The ball didn’t really bounce our way today, but we’re looking forward to moving on and getting ready for next year.”