by Scott Funk (@scottfunk0)
Salt Lake City – It was Pac-12 vs Big 12 on a foggy day in the Cotton Bowl. A high-powered offense in West Virginia vs a high-powered defense in Utah. In the end, the Utes (7-6, 3-6 Pac-12) smothered the Mountaineers’ (7-6, 5-4 Big 12) offense, holding them to just 153 total yards on their way to a 30-14 win in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.
WVU entered the game without their starting QB Will Grier due to injury, as well as their starting running back, Justin Crawford who decided to skip the game to prepare for the NFL draft. Without that duo in the backfield, the WVU offense could not get anything going.
WVU came into the game averaging 485 yards per game, ranking 16th in the nation, and putting up 36 points per game, which ranks 12th in the nation. Their 14 points and 153 total yards were both season lows.
The game started out strong for the Utes. After forcing a three and out in their first appearance on defense the Utes put together a four play, 83 yard drive finishing on a 58 yard TD run by Zack Moss to put the Utes up 7-0 with 11:37 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, WVU got on the board with a 28 yard field goal after an 11 play, 67 yard drive. After trading blows on defense, Tyler Huntley found the end zone for the Utes on a two yard TD run to make it 14-3 with 5:46 to play in the half.
Lou Groza Award winner, Matt Gay, got his first FG of the day to wrap up the scoring in the first half with a 29 yard FG to make it 17-3 with 1:08 to play in the half.
WVU opened the scoring in the second half with a 26 yard field goal with 6:43 to play in the third. That would be the last time the Mountaineers would score until under two minutes to play as the Utes would go on to score 13 unanswered points.
To open the fourth quarter Tyler Huntley found the end zone for his second time on another two yard TD run to make it 24-6 with 13:59 to play.
Matt Gay wrapped up the scoring for the Utes with a FG from 26 yards out with 11:38 to play, and another FG from 24 yards out with 4:15 to play.
After a 38 yard completion from Chris Chugunov to Gary Jennings to the Utah 18, the mountaineers would punch it in on the next play on an 18 yard stake to Ka’Raun White to make it 30-14 with 1:58 to play after the successful two-point try.
After recovering the onside kick, on the first play Chugunov threw his second interception of the day to Utah’s DB Julian Blackmon to seal the game for the Utes. Blackmon would go on to win the MVP of the game after finishing with two tackles and two interceptions.
Chugnov finished the day 9-28 for 129 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Tyler Huntley finished 12-26 for 165 yards. He also carried the ball 25 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns.
Darren Carrington led the receiving unit for the Utes in his last game with four receptions for 62 yards.
Zack Moss led the ground attack with yet another 100 yard rushing day, finishing with 150 yards on 20 carries and one touchdown. Moss finished his sophomore campaign with 1,173 total yards on the year with 10 touchdowns.
The Utes finished with 362 total yards, with 165 coming through the air, and 197 on the ground.
But the story of the day was the Utes defense, as they shutdown a potent offense from the Big 12, even without three key players in Chase Hansen, Jaylon Johnson and Casey Hughes.
The Utes defense forced four turnovers, holding the Mountaineers to just six fist downs, 2-14 on third downs and 29 total yards on the ground.
“It came down to controlling the line of scrimmage, and I thought we owned the line of scrimmage,” said Kyle Whittingham. “When you dominate up front, everything seems to fall into place, and that was the difference in the game.”
With the win, Kyle Whittingham now has an 11-1 bowl record. The 11 bowl wins ties him with Nick Saban for the most bowl wins among active coaches.
His 11-1 record gives him the best winning percentage in bowl games in NCAA history.