Utah came up with a brilliant performance against a West Virginia team that couldn’t get the O going. The Ute D dominated in an easy Heart of Dallas Bowl win. Here are five things that matter.
2017 Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah 30, West Virginia 14
5. Utah had its quarterback, and West Virginia didn’t
Will Grier wasn’t able to go for West Virginia, and that made a big, big difference for a Mountaineer offense that couldn’t get going. Chris Chuganov had an awful game, completing just 9-of-28 passes for 129 yards with a late touchdown and two picks, but he didn’t get any help from his receivers.
David Sills didn’t catch a pass.
Not having RB Justin Crawford – who sat out to save himself for the draft, was a problem, too, for a Mountaineer ground game that cam up with just 29 yards.
On the other side, Tyler Huntley only completed 12-of-26 passes for 165 yards, but he ran for 57 yards and two touchdowns and he kept things moving. It might not have been a special day for the Ute offense, but it didn’t need to be because …
4. The Ute D made a statement
Julian Blackman might have earned MVP honors with his two picks, but the Utah defensive front owned this game. From Lowell Lotulelei on the interior, and Kylie Fitts coming up with a big performance, the Utes were great up front and stuffed everything.
West Virginia finished with just six first downs, converted 2-of-14 third down chances, and amassed a mere 153 yards with four takeaways.
And again, 29 yards on the ground. Utah’s defense showed up, and it showed up large.
3. Don’t worry too much, West Virginia
Relax, Mountaineer fans.
It was a clunker of a bowl performance, but with Grier and Sills coming back, and with four starters returning to the offensive line, the machine will get roll again – this was an aberration.
This was a young team that will get seven starters back on D – it was a nice day for the Mountaineer defense, by the way, considering it didn’t get any help – along with both kickers.
It was a bad bowl game without the star under center. That’s all. It didn’t help to face …
2. Kyle Whittingham in bowls
11-1 – and it’s really 11.5 and 1, considering he was the co-head coach along with Urban Meyer in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.
There are coaches who’ve won bigger bowl games, and there are coaches who have won more, but at the moment, no one has ever been a better bowl head coach than Kyle Whittingham.
Utah lost the 2010 Las Vegas Bowl to Boise State 26-3, and that was it. The Utes have gone to bowl games in each of Whittingham’s 13 years except for two. He might claim that his record is “luck,” nah. You go 11-1 as a head coach in bowl games, you’re doing something right.
The man knows how to prepare a team with a month off.
1. Now, the Utah season doesn’t seem so bad
It was a disappointing year for Utah. It went 6-6, it needed to beat Colorado just to get bowl eligible, it went through a stretch of six losses in seven games, and it was yet another year when the program remained the only one in the South to not play in the Pac-12 Championship.
But sometimes, bowls change the final narrative.
Now, Utah has a winning season, the team looked like Utah again, and there should be hope going into next year that things just really aren’t that bad.
Yeah, 7-6, looks better than 6-7.
The offense needs to be more consistent, but QB Tyler Huntley is back along with RB Zack Moss and three starters up front. The great defense returns absolutely loaded in the secondary, and as always, the front six will be fine.
This is why bowl games matter. The next eight months are going to be a lot more fun.