You might ask yourself, “How can you overlook a 6-6 opponent when you, yourself are only one win better?” Well it can be pretty easy. A couple of games ago West Virginia was staring at a 2nd straight appearance to Orlando in the Camping World Bowl, but dropped their final two games vs Texas and at Oklahoma to end disappointing 7-5 season. When you do not quite live up to expectations, it can be easy for a team to overlook their bowl opponent when it is a bowl they necessarily do not want to be in. I believe Holgorsen and his staff will address this and you won’t see them look past anything. This group of seniors do a tremendous job of attacking the goal at hand, instead of worrying about the future and its opponents.
When I look at Utah on film, it is a team that is very talented and their record doesn’t quite indicate that, considering they did not become bowl eligible until the final week of the season. The Utes are 15 points away from their season being drastically different. Different in the fact they could be 10-2. After getting out to a 4-0 start, the Utes dropped 4 straight including 2 close losses- 3 points to Stanford and 1 point to USC. Other games that could have easily swung in their favor would be their 33-25 loss to Washington State and a 33-30 loss to Washington.
Area’s of strength
- Run game- Young sophomore running back Zack Moss had a fantastic year in his first year as the full time starter. Moss toted the ball 194 times for 1,023 yards and 9 touchdowns.
- Secondary- The Utah secondary only allowed an average on 213.6 yards through the air per game in the regular season. Safety Corrion Ballard (44 tackles, 2 INT), and Safety Chase Hansen (51 tackles, 1 INT) are two guys I expect to be all over the field.
- Coaching- Head Coach Kyle Whittingham has a career record of 10-1 bowl record.
Areas of weakness
- Although the secondary has performed pretty well overall, they have given up huge performances against- Sam Darnold (358 yards), Luke Falk (311 yards), Jake Browning (354 yards). There are some soft spots in the defense, mainly over the middle.
- Lacks a quick strike offense. There’s no true home run threat on the Utah offense. Running back Zack Moss is damn good, but only had a long of 31 yards.
- Not a great pass rush, doesn’t seem to take QB out of his comfort zone.
- Can’t seem to find a way to win close games, hence their 4 losses of a combined 15 points.
Keys for a West Virginia victory
With the obvious news of quarterback Will Grier being ruled out for the remainder of the season, it will be key for now starting quarterback Chris Chugunov to get in a rhythm early. I do not see a need for Chugunov to throw it in the neighborhood of 30 times, but if he can go somewhere around 16/28 for 215 yards, I think that should be plenty. Part of the offenses success against Oklahoma offensively was running the ‘wildcat’ offense with running back Kennedy McKoy. Whether they keep that wrinkle for the bowl game or not is up in the air, but nonetheless he needs to get his fair amount of touches. Giving McKoy some of the workload, will relieve some pressure off of Justin Crawford. The goal should be to get a total of 200 yards between the two, or at least as close to 200 as possible.
Defensively, where do you begin? The game in Norman was a disaster, nightmare, embarrassing, whatever you want to call it, it was just bad. So the only way to go is up from here, at least one would think. Defensive coordinator was hard on himself in the post game saying, “Dana should fire me after that.” So what needs to improve to give the Mountaineers a chance to win this bowl game? Everything, obviously. Back to the fundamentals, starting with making tackles. I saw too many arm tackles or “attempts” @ Oklahoma and hardly any tight coverage from the corners. The corners were getting blown off the line of scrimmage and the separation was there for Baker Mayfield to make the easy throws. Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley is completing 65.4% of his passes, so he won’t make many mistakes or force many throws, especially since he has the ability to scramble out of the pocket and tuck it. The defensive line for the Mountaineers had started to play good during the back end of the season, but did close to nothing against the Sooners. Coach Gibson needs major productivity from his 3 man front to get in Huntley’s face and force him to make tough throws. If he completes those tough throws, then you have to tip your hat, but don’t let him stand around in the pocket all day. Lastly, create turnovers and just like the great coach Bill Stewart said, “punch that thing out every chance you get and keep bustin’ it”, give your young quarterback more opportunities to score. It’s not like the offense was lulled to sleep, they still put up 31 points on the Big 12 champion.
A young quarterback only making his 2nd career start and a defense that was just gashed in their final game does not turn out to be a great combination. Moss should have a rather big day on the ground for the Utes against a Mountaineer defense that gives up an average of 204.8 rushing yards per game. Chugunov makes a couple of mistakes and turning the ball over is the last thing this offense can afford in this game. McKoy and Crawford may have to be leaned on too much which could wear them down towards the end of the game.
I got the Utes, 30-17.