WVU ready to play bowl game without star quarterback Grier

December 28, 2018 GMT

ORLANDO, Fla. - West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen and Syracuse coach Dino Babers have been friends for many years.

So when the two coaches got together Thursday morning for a press conference in a Rosen Plaza conference room, the mood was light. There were jokes, and when the topic of players missing Friday’s Camping World Bowl (5:15 p.m., ESPN) for various reasons came up, the Mountaineer coach was ready.

“That’s another deal that me and Dino made when this game came about,” Holgorsen said. “We had a couple guys out so he tried to even it out with a couple of defensive guys that aren’t going to play. It looks to me it’s an evenly matched game. We both have pretty much the same record. We got a couple offensive guys out. He’s got a couple of defensive guys out. So we’ll line up and see what happens.”

For WVU (8-3) that starts with senior quarterback Will Grier. After a season in which he had the Mountaineers in the thick of the Big 12 title game race until the final week of the regular season, Grier, who finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting, decided to skip the bowl game to focus on preparing for next year’s NFL Draft. The means West Virginia will go with sophomore Jack Allison and freshman Trey Lowe splitting time at quarterback.

“To me, this is more like a first game than a bowl game, the way our defense is breaking it down,” Babers said. “You play a team coming out of camp, you really don’t know what they’re going to do. And I think it’s the advantage for West Virginia. I really do. Defensive coordinators are weird and they freak out about everything. I’m like, hey, going to have to, adjust. There’s times on offense where you come out and they’re playing a new front you’ve never seen or a coverage they never had. You’ve got to adjust to it.”

Senior offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste made the same choice as Grier. Receiver Gary Jennings played through an ankle injury for most of the second half of the season and will sit out Friday’s game.

Syracuse (9-3) has a bit of a different situation.

The Orange will be without defensive end Alton Robinson and defensive tackle McKinley Williams -- both juniors -- on Friday against WVU. Both are out for “personal reasons,” and the school declined to elaborate further.

Robinson, a second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick, was one of the best pass-rushers in the ACC this season with 10 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss. Williams tallied 17 tackles and three for a loss.

Babers said it is difficult to get a read on a football team sometimes. He feels as though the Orange have put in solid work in preparation for Friday’s game, but isn’t positive until the game is played.

“I’m not sure if I’m ever calm before a game,” Babers said. “You do your work and you feel like you’re good in your preparation, and then you kind of - you kind of look at the guys. You watch their manners. You watch them in meetings. You watch their eyes. You watch them in the walk-through. And then you can feel really good about everything, and then you can go out there and they can just play like ‘yuck,’ you know? And you can see them messing around and you don’t like what’s going on and not say a word and they come out there and they play like their hair’s on fire. So I’ve been in it a while, (but) I really can’t tell.”

Babers joked in Thursday’s press conference that with two high-powered offensive teams meeting, he expects a low-scoring game.

Even with Grier, Cajuste and Jennings out, the Mountaineers still have some players that can hit for big plays. David Sills, for example, has been one of the best receivers in WVU program history and among the best in the country the last few seasons. With Sills in the game, Holgorsen wasn’t buying the 10-7 score prediction Babers made.

“He’s really a team player,” Holgorsen said of Sills. “He’s going to have a bright future in the NFL. Who knows where guys get picked? I can’t figure that thing out. But he’s going to play for a while. He’s a great football player. He’s a great team guy. He’s excited about being here. He’s leading our team - you know, two time All-American. So hopefully he can catch a few touchdown passes. It’s one thing that he does a good job with.

“They’re (Syracuse0 pretty good, but hopefully we can move the ball a little bit and get down there where we can score a few touchdowns. You’ve got to score to win. I ain’t buying this 10-7 stuff. We’re having to have to move the ball. I do think that both defenses will be ready to play and be excited about it, but we’re going to have to move the ball and David’s going to have to finish a few drives for us to win.”