It was hard to decide what was uglier at Tuesday’s Heart of Dallas Bowl: the drizzly, gray weather with temperatures in the high 30’s, or West Virginia’s performance. In the end, it was probably the latter. Playing without starting quarterback Will Grier and starting running back Justin Crawford, West Virginia was non-competitive as Utah cruised to a 30-14 win.
Utah (7-6) opened the game by forcing a three-and-out, then scoring on a 58-yard Zack Moss burst up the middle to provide what turned out to be the winning margin. After West Virginia notched a short field goal to pull within 7-3 early in the second quarter, the Utes burst the game open for good when Marcus Simms muffed a Mitch Wishnowsky punt, which the Utes’ Cody Barton hopped on at the WVU 13-yard line. Quarterback Tyler Huntley rushed in a 2-yard score three plays later to put the game effectively out of reach at 14-3 with 5:46 left in the second quarter.
A Utah special teams mistake briefly afforded West Virginia (7-6) a window to jump back in the game. With the score at 17-3 midway through the third quarter, Wishnowsky could not handle a punt snap, which West Virginia’s Shane Commodore recovered at the Utah 9-yard line. However, an anemic West Virginia offense could not gain a yard on its next three plays, forcing a second Evan Staley field goal and ending any hope of a Mountaineer comeback.
One early fourth quarter exchange epitomized the state of play in this day-after-Christmas bowl game pitting two teams that came in a combined 13-11 and playing before a mostly-empty Cotton Bowl. Leading 17-6 with the ball at the WVU 32, Utah elected to go for a 4th-and-3 as the fourth quarter opened. Those plans were thwarted when wide receiver Darren Carrington II flinched, forcing Utah to punt on a 4th-and-8 from the WVU 37. However, West Virginia immediately gave that break back by jumping offside on the punt snap. Utah sent its offense back on the field and saw Carrington atone for his mistake by taking a short pass from Huntley and turning it into a touchdown. But that score was called back thanks to another flag, as Ute wideout Raelon Singleton was caught holding after the catch. Huntley eventually notched his second 2-yard touchdown rush of the day four plays later.
Clint Chugunov made his second start of the season at quarterback for West Virginia and was, well, not good. He didn’t get much help from the rest of the offense and he did gut it out through a right leg injury, but the numbers are the numbers, and he hit 9-of-28 passes — including zero second half completions until just before the 2-minute mark of the fourth quarter — for 129 yards with one garbage time touchdown and two interceptions. Chugunov missed a wide-open Simms with a chance to pull WVU within 17-10 in the third quarter, his first interception hit Utah’s Julian Blackmon directly in the chest with 8:18 left in the fourth quarter, and his second pick, also to Blackmon, ended any hope of a miracle comeback after West Virginia recovered an onside kick with 1:50 remaining and trailing 30-14.
It wasn’t just Chugunov, though. West Virginia rushed for 29 yards, gained 153 yards of total offense, achieved six first downs, converted 2-of-14 third down tries and turned the ball over four times.
Utah improved to 11-1 in bowl games under head coach Kyle Whittingham. Huntley led the Utes by hitting 12-of-26 passes for 165 yards while rushing 25 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns, and Moss added 150 yards and a score on 20 carries.