These guys prepared the right way. No excuses, got the job done. It’s been a fun group to coach all year long. —Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley
DALLAS — Utah’s defense proved to be rather dominant in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. In Tuesday’s 30-14 victory over West Virginia, the Utes gave up just 153 yards of total offense, surrendered only six first downs, and stopped the Mountaineers on 12 of 14 third-down situations.
Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley repeated something head coach Kyle Whittingham is fond of saying as he watched the postgame celebration at mid-field of Cotton Bowl Stadium.
“You’re only as good as the players' mentality going into a bowl game,” Scalley said. “These guys prepared the right way. No excuses, got the job done. It’s been a fun group to coach all year long.”
Scalley noted that the guys just love to work, love the game and didn’t hang their heads and sulk when times were tough.
“It was the mentality throughout bowl preparation and it showed up today,” he continued. “So I’m proud of them.”
Three defensive players on the bowl depth chart didn’t end up playing because of unspecified injuries — safety Chase Hansen, cornerback Casey Hughes and linebacker Sunia Tauteoli.
The Utes, though, didn’t look shorthanded in their quest to finish the season with a winning record for the fourth straight year.
Sophomore cornerback Julian Blackmon had two interceptions and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Senior defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei had 2.5 tackles for loss (1.5 sacks) and junior linebacker Cody Barton had two fumble recoveries (one on special teams).
Other notable performances included two pass breakups by senior defensive back Boobie Hobbs and two quarterback hurries from sophomore defensive end Bradlee Anae.
“It’s the players. The way they prepare and their mentality,” Scalley said after the Utes extended their bowl winning streak to five games and 11-1 overall under head coach Kyle Whittingham. “It’s fun for the seniors, obviously, to go out on a high note.”
Senior defensive end Kylie Fitts acknowledged it “means everything” as he left the field.
Fitts wasn’t alone.
“It’s just a good feeling to end the way that we did,” Lotulelei said. “We worked hard for this.”
Utah won its final two games to finish 7-6 overall, posting the program’s fourth consecutive winning season.
“We just did the same thing we have done all season. We played tough defense and the senior class did such a great job,” Whittingham said. “This was a very resilient group. They fought hard and came to play every week in spite of some close losses early. This is a tribute to the dedication of those players and the coaching staff.”
Utah forced a depleted West Virginia offense, playing without its usual starting quarterback and featured running back, to punt nine times. The Utes didn’t give up a touchdown until less than two minutes remaining. They were up 30-6 at the time.
“We came here with the right attitude that we don’t lose bowl games and played hard,” Blackmon said.
The Utes also had standouts in other phases of the game. Lou Groza Award winner Matt Gay didn’t miss a kick, connecting on all three field goals and three PATs he attempted.
Utah’s offense also had a solid outing in the cold, wet conditions. The Utes netted 362 yards and 19 first downs. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley passed for 165 yards and rushed for 57. He capped two drives with touchdown runs.
The highlight of the offense came on Utah’s fourth play from scrimmage. That’s when sophomore running back Zack Moss burst through the line and ran 58 yards for the first score of the contest.
“It was important for us to come out of the gates with a big play early and set the tone for the game,” said Moss, who wound up with a game-high 150 yards rushing,
The Utes never trailed in their first meeting against West Virginia since topping the Mountaineers (32-6) in the 1964 Liberty Bowl.
“It’s always a great feeling to get a bowl win,” Huntley said. “We are starting the year off right, working on next year. We’re going to be ready for next year.”
Utah kicks off its 2018 season Aug. 30 at its home against Weber State.
Moss is expecting good things going into the next campaign.
“I think we’ve found our stride,” he said. “We’ve got our swag and we know who we are as a team.”