CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Those preseason All-American lists spotlighted David Sills. And Gary Jennings hardly was overlooked after making 97 catches last year.

Yet it was T.J. Simmons, the sophomore reserve, who delivered the splashiest play among West Virginia’s talented receivers Saturday.

His catch on a first-quarter crossing route became a 59-yard touchdown when Tennessee safety Micah Abernathy whiffed on a sideline tackle. Simmons’ only target set the pace in a 40-14 blowout.

“T.J. was rolling,” said Jennings. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

Dale Sparks/WVU athletics

T.J. Simmons races 59 yards for a touchdown in West Virginia’s 40-14 win over Tennessee.


Tennessee might not have been expecting 11 players to catch passes for West Virginia, a nice complement to the big-timers Sills and Jennings — who combine for 253 yards and three touchdowns.

“That just shows how many weapons we have, and that a lot of different people are ready,” Jennings said.

Simmons had celebrated an easy win over Tennessee before — 49-10 back in 2016, when he was a freshman playing special-teams at Alabama. Now he joins a cadre of playmakers excited to catch darts from Will Grier.

Sills, the FBS co-leader in touchdown grabs during 2017, caught a 33-yarder in the third quarter and another from 10 yards out late. He finished with seven receptions for 140 yards, the second-highest total in his three-year stint at West Virginia.

“We just needed to take our shots when we had them,” Sills said, “especially when we caught them in man looks.”

Jennings piled up 113 yards and finished a perfect 6-for-6 on targets.

“That’s the goal — catch every thing shown your way,” he said.

He even caught a touchdown, something he hadn’t accomplished since last year’s season opener against Virginia Tech. The drought ended on a 28-yarder that Grier dropped over his outside shoulder.

He placed it right where he needed it,” Jennings said. “I just walled off the DB and let the ball fall to the outside. Will threw a great ball.”

Grier threw a lot of great ones, in fact, resulting in 429 passing yards —the most allowed by Tennessee in 37 games dating back to the 2015 opener against Bowling Green.