DALLAS — I don’t want to hear another word about preparation, schemes, good fortune, stick-to-itiveness, teamwork, planning or sacrifice. There are all sorts of logical explanations why Kyle Whittingham owns virtually every bowl game he has ever encountered.
I would rather hear about occultism, voodoo, conjuring, magic spells, telekinesis, hexes and paranormal activity.
In other words, the Whit Mystique.
There’s something otherworldly about Whittingham. It certainly looked that way when the mist enveloped Cotton Bowl Stadium for Tuesday’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. You could see him squinting through the fog, “Hound of the Baskervilles” style.
When it comes to bowl games, this man has the concentration of Kreskin.
In Point Pleasant, West Virginia, there is a statue of the Mothman, a mysterious creature alleged to have frequented the area in the mid-1960s. A lot of people believe the terrifying Mothman is real.
How’s this for real? West Virginia didn’t go over 100 yards of total offense until the final minutes of Tuesday’s 30-14 Utah win.
“I’m proud of our football team, all the bowl preparation and practice the whole deal obviously paid dividends today,” Whittingham began. “All the hard work and preparation. I’m happy the seniors could go out on another positive note and get another (win) today to add to their legacy.”
That’s too modest. Whittingham’s personal legacy is an 11-1 bowl record, best in NCAA history.
At times, the whole thing borders on preternatural, regardless of competition. His offensive coordinator can call a throwback pass that miserably fails, yet shortly after, his quarterback can romp unfettered into the end zone.
Kind of like Whittingham himself.
“We want to keep that bowl prowess, I guess you could say, alive,” he said.
He can OK reverse passes that crash and have a quarterback playing his B game, yet survive with room to spare. He can be embroiled in a questionable pairing on an undesirable date, in weather conditions nobody wants, and love it.
Put him in Siberia on the Ides of March and he’ll say, “Lace ‘em up.”
Tuesday’s game completed a blunderfully bewildering season. The Utes won four in a row to start off, jumping into the top 25, then lost four in a row. They convulsed to a win over UCLA, lost two more, then qualified for a bowl by beating Colorado.
“We were close this year, but nobody cares,” Whittingham said of his 7-6 record. “The positive is we’re not that far away.”
Utah arrived in December bowl-eligible, but as unconvincing as a secondhand suit. Injuries had thinned the lineup. Yet whenever the Utes hit the postseason, it’s serious business.
“He preaches on us like, ‘We don’t lose bowl games,’” quarterback Tyler Huntley said.
Bowls aren’t so much a reward to Whittingham as a to-do list.
Due to the fact West Virginia quarterback Will Grier was out with an injury and star running back Justin Crawford bailed to avoid possible injury, the Utes were favored. Utah receiver Darren Carrington II refused to sit out to protect his professional aspirations and led the Utes with four catches for 62 yards. Meanwhile, Zack Moss rushed for 150 yards — 58 on one scoring run.
If there were any glamour to the pairing of .500ish teams, it was that after 16 bowl games this year, Tuesday’s was the first involving two teams from power conferences. But there wasn’t a ton of power to sell. Utah lost six of seven games in one stretch, while WVU lost three of its last five, including the final two.
Yet despite his slip into Cliché Land at the start of the press conference, Whittingham also professed an inability to explain his streak.
“There’s no uniqueness other than hard work,” he said.
To his credit, he tried one more time to explain his success, even as he began rocking out.
“Well,” Whittingham said, “I guess like (musician) Joe Walsh says, ‘The coolest guy on the planet — I’m just lucky that way.’”