DALLAS — Filipo Mokofisi considers himself a pass rusher first.
The Utah defensive tackle said, “To my counterpart Lowell (Lotulelei), I think it’s more speed. Lowell’s more powerful. Speed and quickness is more my game in pass rushing.”
They, and defensive end Bradlee Anae, the team leader with seven sacks, could have plenty of opportunities to display their pass-rushing talent on Tuesday when the Utes (6-6) play West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
West Virginia (7-5) will be without starting quarterback Will Grier, who passed for 3,409 yards and 34 touchdowns. Replacing him is sophomore Chris Chugunov, who started the season-ending loss at Oklahoma and has passed for just 407 yards.
The Mountaineers also will be missing running back Justin Crawford, who has exceeded 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons but decided to skip the game to prepare for the NFL draft. Sophomores Kennedy McKoy, who gained 580 yards and scored seven touchdowns, and Martell Pettaway (145 yards, two touchdowns) will fill in.
“I don’t think anything is going to change other than that those two are going to get a lot more workload,” Mokofisi said.
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said as much.
“You can’t go through a season with just one running back. You’ve got to have three or four of those guys. You’re asking them to get involved in protections and running the ball, they’re taking a lot of hits.
“If you look back at our season, Justin was quick to get 100 yards, and then we’d replace him with the other two guys.”
Utah’s leading rusher, sophomore Zack Moss, will bring his 1,064 yards and nine touchdowns to the game, and head coach Kyle Whittingham said quarterback Tyler Huntley (2,246 yards, 15 TDs) is 100 percent recovered from a sprained shoulder.
“We’ve talked a lot about (WVU) being about 100th in the nation in rushing defense,” Moss said. “We think we can do a lot of good things against them.
“I see it as another opportunity to come out and showcase what I can do and help this team get another win and get some rings.”
The game at the historic Cotton Bowl is set for an 11:30 a.m. MST kickoff on ESPN. It should be a large departure from last year’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, when Army’s infantry stayed on the ground for 74 rushing attempts.
The 2017 version likely will feature more passing on both sides, but not likely as much as the 2012 game, when MVP Case Keenum threw 69 passes for 532 yards. With Crawford gone and even with Chugunov at quarterback, the Mountaineers are likely to rely heavily on throwing to their four receivers with more than 600 yards.
Gary Jennings enters the game with 1,030 yards, David Sills (980) led the nation with 18 touchdowns, Ka’Raun White (978) also is likely to go over 1,000 for the season and Marcus Simms contributed 630.
“They catch every ball thrown to them,” Whittingham said. “It’s impressive to watch. Very few drops.”
Darren Carrington II leads the Utes with 918 receiving yards and six touchdowns, and could become Utah’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Dres Anderson in 2013.
Bowl games are nothing new for either team. WVU has been in 15 bowls in the last 16 years, but is just 2-3 under Holgorsen. The Utes have played in 14 bowls since 1996, but with much greater success. They’ve won 13 of those games, and Whittingham’s .909 bowl winning percentage (10-1) is the highest in NCAA history.
“It’s all about players and guys who are prepared very well historically for bowls and take it very seriously," Whittingham said. “A bowl game is a chance to be rewarded for a good season, but also a chance to get another win on your schedule. It’s just the mindset of the players, and it’s really perpetuated itself.”
This year, a win would be the difference between a winning season and a losing record.
“7-6 just sounds a lot better than 6-7,” Mokofisi said. “It also looks a lot better than 6-7. So obviously it’s a big one for us.”