For the second straight year, West Virginia heads into a bowl game without the benefit of its starting quarterback. But this time around, there’s a decidedly more optimistic feeling about the situation.
Last year’s backup, Chris Chugunov, was a stop-gap replacement for a team that couldn’t afford to have Will Grier hurt for an extended period of time. It showed in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where Chugunov went 9 of 28 for 128 yards with a pair of interceptions against Utah. He transferred to Ohio State last summer and has yet to play another down.
Grier’s backup for this season, Jack Allison, has been groomed all year to take Grier’s place next season. With Grier sitting out, Allison gets a jump on the process against Syracuse at the Camping World Bowl.
“I’ve been excited and encouraged to see what he’s been doing with the practice reps that he’s gotten over the last couple of weeks,” said West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen. “He’s attacked it the right way, and I’ve been satisfied with that.”
Allison has spent most of the season practicing with the No. 2 offense, which in this case may work to the Mountaineers benefit. A variety of targets with whom Allison is familiar will help take the place of the injured Gary Jennings.
“He was always in there with the backups, and the backups are Sam [James] and Bryce [Wheaton] and Dom Maiden and Tevin [Bush] and [tight end] Jovani Haskins,” Holgorsen said. “He’s been throwing it to Jovani for three years now. I like what I see. I’m encouraged by it.”
Haskins and Allison started their collegiate careers together at Miami before transferring to West Virginia after their freshman years.
Allison has spent the bowl practices building a rapport with the veterans on the No. 1 offense.
“We feel confident with him back there,” said senior receiver David Sills. “We’ve had to do extra throwing sessions to build that connection. But I feel we’re in a good spot right now.”
Sills said that West Virginia won’t have to abandon its downfield throwing game with Allison.
“He can throw with anybody and he’s going to give us a lot of chances to make plays down the field,” Sills said.
Holgorsen insists that Allison won’t be the only young quarterback getting a shot against the Orange. Freshman Trey Lowe is also getting first-team reps in practice. While it seems quite unlikely to be anything close to a 50-50 split, Holgorsen wants to see what Lowe can do, too.
“I’m planning on playing them both,” Holgorsen said.
Sills says that Lowe brings a more mobile element to the offense.
“Trey is a big, physical kid. He does well in the quarterback run game, having more of a read-option type deal,” Sills said. “Jack and Will don’t do much of that because they’re more pocket passers. But Trey can sling it too. He plays baseball. He’s got a little of a baseball throw. He does [come in a little hot] every now and again. But he puts it in there.”