Dallas • The Utes’ tradition of bowl dominance continued with a manhandling of West Virginia on a damp, cold and dreary afternoon Tuesday in the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium.
Utah pushed around the Mountaineers to the tune of a 30-14 win in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl to improve to 11-1 in bowl games during coach Kyle Whittingham’s tenure. The win also gave Utah its fourth consecutive season with a winning record (7-6) as well as a fourth consecutive year with a bowl victory.
“We wanted to send the seniors out even on a bigger note, not just winning the last game at Rice-Eccles but send them out of here with a ring, something they can show [for] years,” sophomore running back Zack Moss said.
Moss rushed for 150 yards and one touchdown, and quarterback Tyler Huntley, who missed the final regular-season game due to an undisclosed injury, threw for 165 yards and scored on a pair of rushing touchdowns.
The Utes’ defense limited the Mountaineers offense, led by backup quarterback Chris Chugunov, to 153 yards of total offense and just six first downs, three of which came on the Mountaineers’ second to last drive of the game.
Sophomore defensive back Julian Blackmon intercepted two passes and earned Heart of Dallas Bowl Most Valuable Player. The Utes forced four turnovers, including a pair of fumbles recovered by linebacker Cody Barton.
Meanwhile, the defensive line, anchored by seniors Filipo Mokofisi, Lowell Lotulelei and Kylie Fitts rushed, hit and sacked Chugunov all day.
“I thought they really controlled the game from start to finish, our defense – particularly the front,” Whittingham said. “I’m very proud of those senior defensive linemen — Lowell and Flip and Kylie Fitts. I thought they played extremely well today. We won the line of scrimmage. That was very evident on both sides of the ball.”
The Utes scored on their first possession, thanks to a 58-yard touchdown run by Moss on third-and-1. The run marked the longest by a Utes ball carrier this season, and the 10th rushing TD of the season for Moss.
After the Mountaineers got on the board with an Evan Staley field goal with 13:09 remaining in the second quarter, a pair of near-connections stalled a promising Utes drive in the second quarter.
Huntley’s pass intended for tight end Siale Fakailoatonga went slightly high on a nicely designed play-fake that left him open slanting over the middle. Then a double pass ended up back in Huntley’s hands, and he tossed to Jake Jackson downfield, but Jackson dropped the ball to leave the Utes in a third-and-10 after two plays that could have and likely should have resulted in big gains.
However, the Utes took advantage of a Mountaineers special teams blunder. All Big-12 returner Marcus Simms allowed a punt to hit the ground, and it caromed off him and Barton recovered at the Mountaineers’ 13-yard line.
Three plays later, Huntley faked a pitch to Moss, tucked the ball and followed a pair of lead blockers pulling and leading around the end as Huntley strolled into the end zone untouched to give the Utes a 14-3 lead with 5:46 left in the first half.
Utes consensus all-America kicker and Lou Groza Award winner Matt Gay added a 29-yard field goal with 1:08 left before halftime to give the Utes a 17-3 edge going into the locker room.
After the Mountaineers tacked on another field goal to make it 17-6, West Virginia penalties and a fourth-down conversion on a pass to Darren Carrington II set up Huntley’s second touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Gay added two more field goals before Mountaineers receiver Ka’Raun White caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Chugunov with 1:58 remaining.
UTAH 30, WEST VIRGINIA 14
• Utah finishes the season with a winning record for the fourth consecutive year.
• Utah’s defense holds West Virginia’s offense to less than 200 yards of offense and just six first downs.
• Julian Blackmon wins MVP of the game with two interceptions.