Now that we are underway with bowl season, it's the Utes' turn in front of a national audience. Utah (6-6) will play in the Cotton Bowl to face West Virginia (7-5) in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. Here's a closer look at what the West Virginia media are saying about the bowl game.
A tough mountain to climb without their starters
Multiple media outlets are reporting that West Virgina will be without its starting quarterback Will Grier and running back Justin Crawford.
Grier is still recovering from a middle finger injury on his throwing hand after injuring it on Nov. 18 against Texas. Grier had a fantastic season after transferring from the University of Florida, throwing for 3,409 yards and 34 touchdowns. The 34 TDs are the second most touchdowns in school history. There is some good news for the Mountaineers, as Grier will return for the 2018 season.
Not so much for Crawford, who decided to skip the bowl game so he can focus on his preparation for the NFL draft. The senior back rushed for 1,061 yards and seven touchdowns this season for the Mountaineers. Crawford rushed for more than 1,000 yards and was All-Big 12 second-team in back-to-back seasons.
Next man up for the Mountaineers' future
With both Grier and Crawford out for the Heart of Dallas Bowl, the Mountaineers are looking for their backups to step up in replacing the two starters according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
According to the report, the Mountaineers are expecting sophomore running backs Kennedy McKoy (545 yards, seven TDs) and Martell Pettaway (145 yards, two TDs) to fill the void in the backfield. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen will make sure he preps the two backs now that they are in the starting role.
“We put our guys in position to be successful, and we expect them to be successful,” Holgorsen said. “We have two capable running backs that have played games for us and have practiced really well for the last couple of weeks. Kennedy and Martell look really good. In my opinion, they look as good as I have ever seen them."
As for the quarterback, West Virginia is expecting to use Chris Chugunov to replace Grier. The sophomore quarterback has been Grier's backup all season long. He played in four games, started the last game, a 59-31 loss to Oklahoma on Nov. 25. Now making his second start, Holgorsen is confident in Chugunov with the experience he has.
“And he has been around here for a long time," Holgorsen said. "We expect him to act like a starting quarterback, practice like a starting quarterback and go play like a starting quarterback."
Will WVU run with the Utes or get run over
Also in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the story takes a look at Utah's leading rusher Zack Moss. West Virginia and Utah share similar statistics in the rushing category. The Mountaineers averages 160.4 yards while Utes averages 161.3 yards.
The article broke down how Utah replaced four of its offensive linemen and former Ute back Joe Williams from last season. Moss won the starting role and had his breakout year as the season progressed. Some of the Pac-12 teams struggled against the Florida native, knowing that he's a downhill runner that will put linebackers on their backs when attempting to tackle him head on. Ask USC, Colorado and UCLA, each of whom he rushed for over 100 yards.
The defense will have their hands full against Utah's running game. West Virginia is ranked last in the Big-12 in run defense and ranked 104 overall.