MORGANTOWN – Before Saturday’s nonconference football game, many wondered what would be learned about WVU, which faced an overmatched East Carolina team.
Not a whole bunch. Yet one thing was certainly reinforced: Quarterback Will Grier is a pretty good football player. And he’s even moreso with all his weapons in place.
On a cool summer day, Grier, the transfer from Florida playing for the first time at Milan Puskar Stadium, showed off his arm by completing 19-of-25 passes for 352 yards and five touchdowns as WVU cruised to a 56-20 victory before 56,797.
Back from suspension was speedster Marcus Simms, who burned the Pirates for a 52-yard score in the second quarter.
And Grier and Simms weren’t the only Mountaineers having fun.
WVU receiver David Sills had 153 of Grier’s passing yards, including a 75-yard catch and run for a score. Sills finished the day with three touchdowns.
Also, Mountaineer running back Justin Crawford had 118 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.
On the day, West Virginia had 619 total yards. It came on the heels of a 31-24 loss to No. 18 Virginia Tech.
“Proud of the way the guys bounced back after the disappointing loss,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “I really felt after last week’s game our guys were motivated to play again. And five-and-a-half days later, they showed up.”
West Virginia showed up from the start, scoring 49 points in the first half, the team’s most such output since scoring that against Clemson in the first half of the 2012 Orange Bowl. The 46-point halftime lead was the biggest since a 59-0 over Rutgers in 2001, Rich Rodriguez’s first season as Mountaineer coach.
Grier was especially on point Saturday. And afterward he expressed gratitude the performance came in his first Mountaineer Field appearance.
“I have fun every time I go out there, but it was just great to play in front of those fans, man,” Grier said. “It was an absolute blast. There’s always room for improvement, but you can’t ever be unhappy about a win for Mountaineer nation.”
“He was extremely accurate,” said ECU coach Scottie Montgomery. “He has a quick release that hurt us. If you go back and look at the tape, he was signaling all over the field… They had a few drops or they would have had some more plays.
“I thought he played as well as any quarterback we’ve played against in a long time.”
ECU, meanwhile, had a 70-yard drive for a 23-yard field in the first quarter to pull within 7-3. But the WVU defense didn’t allow another score in the first half, while the Mountaineer offense caught fire.
Receiver Ka’Raun White pulled in a 7-yard TD. Running back Kennedy McKoy went in from 13 yards out.
And then it was Simms’ turn. On a first-and-10 situation from WVU’s own 48, Grier threw a picture-perfect strike to the 6-foot sophomore in stride on a post pattern.
“That post route is one of the better ones I’ve seen,” said Mountaineer offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. “Will chucked it a long way in the air. It’s good to have Marcus back. His speed really helps.”
Simms sat out the Virginia Tech game following his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving on a suspended license for DUI. The latter charges have been dropped.
Holgorsen didn’t start Simms, but used him at receiver, kickoff and punt return on Saturday.
“It’s good to see Marcus out there and doing a few things,” Holgorsen said. “We need more guys to step up at receiver and play.”
That doesn’t apply to Sills, who finished with a career-high 153 yards. Toward the end of the first half, he went down the left sideline and found blown ECU coverage. Grier hit him in stride and the payoff was the 75-yard score.
“It was kind of a sight adjustment thing,” Grier said. “The way they were playing us, it was open. Sills saw it and got back to me. David Sills gets credit for that.”
“They were giving a defense that we knew was a weak part,” Sills said. “Coach Spav had a great call. He knew going into that series if they gave us that look that would be open. Will put the ball right on the money – as he usually does.”
Grier was eventually replaced by Chris Chugunov and the two combined to complete 24-of-34 passes for 403 yards. Crawford’s 118 yards were part of a 216-yard Mountaineer rushing attack.
East Carolina quarterback Thomas Sirk completed 16-of-34 passes for 191 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions before being replaced late. Backup Gardner Minshew, who was ECU’s season starter, hit Trevon Brown in the fourth quarter for a 95-yard touchdown.
WVU, 1-1, will host Delaware State next Saturday at noon. ECU fell to 0-2.