Prep for Tennessee may already be in focus for West Virginia

MORGANTOWN — Ask him about the Tennessee scouting report and West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen makes a C-shape with his fingers spread two inches apart.

“There’s an offensive book on my desk that thick, and a defensive book on my desk that thick, and a special-teams book on my desk that thick,” he said. “The scouting report is done. It’s been done for about a month.”

Yet those pages and pages of Vols information, compiled by Holgorsen’s staff analysts, won’t reach Holgorsen’s eyes until this weekend, a sort of demarcation line when the inward focus of the preseason shifts outward to the season-opening opponent.

“I haven’t looked at it yet,” he said. “[On Sunday] we’re going to start diving into it.”

Fans have fixated on this Big 12-SEC matchup since last December, and this Sunday, finally, Holgorsen steers his team into an intensive two-week prep. Until now, the necessity to hone fundamentals and install his own schemes carried precedence over what’s cooking on Rocky Top.

That’s the company line, at least.

But of course Holgorsen has peeked ahead, and so have his assistants.

During the summer down time, offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital watched film from last year’s Alabama defense for background on new Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt. What he saw partially influenced what to emphasize during camp, but those video sessions inevitably caught the attention of Will Grier and David Sills, who flocked in like bugs to a night light.

“If I have the projector on and they see it, they’re going to come in and sit,” Spavital said of his football junkies. “It’s like they never leave this facility.”

You sense the play-caller and his top two offensive weapons could’ve gotten lost for hours in Tennessee talk, but Spavital understood the perils of too-much, too-soon and redirected sessions into “another direction where we focus on plays and schematics and making sure we get ourselves better.”

Sills enjoyed the pop-ins, which he described as “just guys talking back and forth and having a regular conversation” about football. These pop-ins had a purpose.

“There’s lots of down time in the summer, when most of our classes are online,” said the preseason all-American receiver. “You’re excited for the season and you want to get a head start on your opponent.”

There’s a cadence to game preparation, a rhythm to when teams transition from competing against themselves to locking on an opponent. If any players can compartmentalize the information out-of-sequence, it is Sills and Grier.

Speaking to Grier about last year’s Alabama defense, we laughed about the best part being that Pruitt couldn’t transport Minkah Fitzpatrick and those eight NFL draft picks to Knoxville.

Then came this assessment from the QB:

“We’re going to face a passionate football guy that’s going to be good on defense and have his guys fired up to play. At Tennessee, they’ve got good recruits and all the resources they need to be a great team.”

Respectful and cautious, Grier was thirsty for the opener yet already speaking in midseason form.

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