We dominated the game like we wanted to. —Utah running back Zack Moss
DALLAS — Despite the cold, fog and rain, Utah made the Heart of Dallas Bowl a bright experience. The Utes overpowered West Virginia 30-14 to end the season on a warm and fuzzy note — a fourth consecutive winning season. They finished 7-6 overall with the victory.
“I think it started with the size of physicality up front,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “I felt like we controlled the line of scrimmage. I felt like the line of scrimmage was ours, and that was the starting point.”
Sophomore cornerback Julian Blackmon picked off two passes and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Utah’s defense held West Virginia (7-6) to just 153 yards and six first downs. The Mountaineers were just 2 of 14 on third-down conversions.
“We played amazing. My defense played amazing. Without my defense getting to the quarterback, I don’t get my two picks,” said Blackmon, who praised the defensive line and safeties for being in coverage every time. “They’re the reason why we won.”
Winning bowl games is something the Utes have done consistently. They’ve won four straight and are 11-1 in postseason play under Whittingham. His 11 bowl victories puts him in a tie with Alabama’s Nick Saban for the most in the nation among active coaches.
“We prepare through thick and thin, and we just came out very well-prepared and coached, and we came out with the win,” said quarterback Tyler Huntley, who finished with 165 yards passing and 57 rushing.
Utah led 17-3 at halftime. The Utes did so in impressive fashion. Contributions came from all aspects.
“We dominated the game like we wanted to,“ said running back Zack Moss. The sophomore ran for a game-high 150 yards.
Huntley and Moss led an offense that netted 229 yards, 10 first downs and two touchdowns.
The defense, meanwhile, forced West Virginia into five three-and-outs over the first two quarters. The Mountaineers managed just 81 yards and three first downs over the pivotal stretch. They were just 1 of 9 in third-down situations. Defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei topped the effort with 2.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
On the special teams front, Lou Groza Award winner Matt Gay made three field goals and three PATs, while Cody Barton recovered a fumble on a muffed punt return by West Virginia.
Utah ran just four plays to take the lead for good. A 58-yard touchdown run by Moss put the Utes on the board less than three and a half minutes into the game. Gay followed with the extra point to make it 7-0.
“You always want to get out front, and we were able to do that with that big run," Whittingham said. “That’s certainly better than having the reverse of that happen.”
After West Virginia countered with a 28-yard field goal from Evan Staley early in the second quarter, Utah began to pull away comfortably. It began with Barton’s fumble recovery that gave the Utes possession on the West Virginia 13-yard line. Huntley wound up capping a three-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Gay added the PAT. He later connected on a 29-yard field goal — with 1:08 remaining — to cap all scoring in the half.
Despite playing without two projected starters — safety Chase Hansen and cornerback Casey Hughes, as well as linebacker Sunia Tauteoli, the team’s second-leading tackler — Utah’s defense continued to shine.
The Utes weathered a miscue midway through the third quarter when punter Mitch Wishnowsky was unable to get a kick off before West Virginia’s Dante Bonamico forced a fumble, and teammate Shane Commodore recovered it on the Utah 9-yard line. The Mountaineers were unable to totally cash in on the field position and settled for a 26-yard field goal by Staley to make it 17-6.
The score stood as the game entered the fourth quarter. Utah then reeled off 10 points in a span of 2:21 to increase its lead to 27-6. The spurt included a 2-yard touchdown run by Huntley, plus another extra point and field goal (26 yards) from Gay. The latter was made possible when Barton recovered his second fumble of the game, this one when West Virginia quarterback Chris Chugunov lost the ball.
Utah’s final points came on a 24-yard field goal by Gay with 4:15 remaining.
Trailing 30-6, West Virginia cut the deficit to its final margin with 1:52 left to play. An 18-yard touchdown pass for Chugunov to Ka’Raun White was followed by a two-point conversion.
Blackmon put an end to the Mountaineers’ drives before and after the score with interceptions.
“We came out to win and play our best game,” said senior defensive end Kylie Fitts. “So we knew that was going to happen.”