Longhorn defense looks to rebound against West Virginia’s Grier

Robert Larkin

When No. 13 West Virginia rolls into Austin on Saturday, it will present the most talented team the Longhorns have faced since taking down Oklahoma in early October. And with both teams jostling for positioning atop the Big 12 standings, it has the makings of a competitive late-season clash. 

Here are the Mountaineers that fans need to know about prior to Saturday’s significant contest: 

#7 Will Grier — Quarterback

Entering the season, quarterback Will Grier garnered attention as a potential Heisman candidate thanks to his superb talent and “Grier7Heisman” website put together by the athletic program. And while players like Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray have surpassed Grier in the Heisman conversation, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native has still turned heads with an outstanding season that has him regarded as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks. 

Grier has thrown for 2,272 yards and 25 touchdowns through the air through seven games, earning him a spot on the Maxwell Award semifinalist list, an award given to the top player in college football each season. He doesn’t carry any quick running ability that makes him difficult to contain, but Grier stands as one of the best pocket passers in the entire country. His passing efficiency rating (188.7), yards per attempt (9.9) and completion percentage (70.3) all rank inside the top five in each respective categories. 

#13 David Sills V — Wide receiver 

Wide receiver David Sills V, one of the nation’s top receivers and Grier’s favorite target, challenges Big 12 defenses every week. In particular, Sills is a menace on jump balls and inside the red zone, where he uses his 6-foot-4-inch frame to separate him from smaller defensive backs. That unique physical ability is what made Sills so successful during his breakout 2017 season, when he hauled in 18 touchdowns on 980 yards receiving.

The former junior college transfer is now the emphasis of the opposing defense’s game plan, but it hasn’t slowed his production. Sills leads the Mountaineers in receptions and receiving yards and is tied for the most receiving touchdowns in the Big 12 with nine. Receivers faster than Sills can be found across the Big 12, but very few can match his ability to find the end zone at such an efficient rate. 

#11 David Long Jr. — Linebacker 

Although the high-flying offense generates the headlines for the Mountaineers, it’s the elevated performance of the defense that has pushed West Virginia into the discussion for the Big 12 Championship. A year after ranking seventh in the Big 12 in scoring defense, the Mountaineers rank first this season. One of the key members of that turnaround has been linebacker David Long Jr. Through seven games, Long leads the team in both tackles and tackles for loss, with 68 and 12.5 respectively. 

His remarkable season has even earned him recognition as a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker in college football. Like most college linebackers, Long is strong and possesses impressive tackling ability. But what makes him so successful in the Big 12 is his sideline-to-sideline speed, which is beneficial for stopping the conference’s quick, spread out attacks. 

#2 Kenny Robinson Jr. — Safety 

Experience scatters the West Virginia secondary. At four of the five positions in the defensive backfield, the Mountaineers carry upperclassmen. But the lone underclassmen, sophomore safety Kenny Robinson Jr. has held his own. After finishing his freshman season as a starter, Robinson has emerged as a talented player at the free safety spot for Tony Gibson’s defense. He’s collected the most tackles of any defensive back and is also tied for the team lead in interceptions with two. 

This weekend, Robinson will go against a Texas offense that possesses talented playmakers to challenge him. Speedy receivers like Devin Duvernay and physical wideouts like Collin Johnson present a difficult task for any defensive back, especially a young one. There is good news for Robinson, however. In last season’s game against the Longhorns, he did intercept Sam Ehlinger for a 94-yard touchdown.