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WVU Surrenders 2021 Guaranteed Rate Bowl Trophy to Minnesota, 18-6

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The first half of 2021’s Guaranteed Rate Bowl was brutal for not only the 6-6 West Virginia Mountaineers, but also the 8-4 Minnesota Golden Gopher team. UM’s head coach PJ Fleck is 2-17 when trailing in the first quarter, but the Golden Gophers weren’t prepared for WVU to hold them to zero points in the opening period.

Chase Field played host to the two programs’ first meeting, but that meeting culminated in sloppy football essentially right out of the gate.

WVU redshirt senior quarterback Jarret Doege started potentially his final game in a WVU uniform, and immediately lead the Mountaineers into two straight three-and-out situations that requested redshirt senior punter Tyler Sumpter to join the field. Sumpter’s pair of punts went 42 and 34 yards, but sandwiched in between those possessions was an outrageous Minnesota drive.

Over the course of the Golden Gophers’ first 10 snaps, Minnesota began to show off exactly why bowl games bring with them a certain hilarity. After completing a field position-shifting 22-yard pass from quarterback Tanner Morgan to wide out Dylan Wright, the Minnesota drive began to go haywire. A pair of medium-yard rushes to welcome running back Ky Thomas into the game put the Golden Gophers down inside the WVU five-yard line. WVU’s senior defensive lineman Dante Stills made his presence known in a huge way, when he christened Chase Field with the first sack of the night, driving Morgan back 10 yards and forcing a field goal attempt. That field goal, from 25 yards out, went off the foot of kicker Matthew Trickett and fell outside the uprights. The score remained at zero as the Mountaineers would also fail to put points on the board.

The next Minnesota drive was more of the same brand of wacky football. A costly fumble on third down fell out of the hands of a running Thomas inside the WVU 10-yard line. WVU’s redshirt juniors were in to remedy the opportunity. D-lineman Taijh Alston forced the fumble, while cornerback Charles Woods was credited with the fumble recovery. Regardless, the Mountaineers regained possession at their own six-yard line.

Trying desperately to claw the way out of their own red zone, the Mountaineers couldn’t string meaningful plays together. Back-to-back sacks of Doege (seven and eight yards by Esezi Otomewo and Boye Mafe, respectively) didn’t help the forward progress, and Sumpter was sent back out to punt the ball away from his own six-yard line.

Mountaineer fans saw the first glimpse of Minnesota running back Mar’Keise Irving in the following series of downs. He kicked the series off with a 16-yard scamper. After a quick break to open the second half, he bookended the drive with a 23-yard rush that set 6’9″, 380-pound offensive lineman Daniel Faalele up for a two-yard rushing touchdown. To add insult to Mountaineer injury, the Golden Gophers caught WVU sleeping on a PAT attempt, opting instead to hand the ball to Brock Annexstad, who converted a successful two-point opportunity. With 14:19 left in the half, Minnesota went up 8-0.

Doege’s first meaningful connections with his wide receiver corps opened up in the next drive. Winston Wright Jr., Sean Ryan, and Sam James all found the ball in their hands, but it turned out to be Doege himself that closed the one-yard gap and ran himself toward a rushing touchdown. After an ineffective two-point conversion, the Mountaineers only trailed 8-6, with 8:48 to play in the half. The action wasn’t over yet though.

The following drive resulted in Thomas showing his power with a 50-yard sprint down the field and, once he got his breath back, the remaining five yard rush into the WVU end zone. Trickett’s shot through the uprights was good, and Minnesota enlarged its lead to 15-6 with 2:14 left in a tumultuous half. At halftime, the Mountaineers had only strung together 127 yards of total offense to Minnesota’s 218.

The offensive presence didn’t much improve for the Mountaineers when the two teams reconvened for the third quarter. The WVU defense got its hands on Morgan to kick off the second half, a 10-yard detriment by Jackie Matthews. When WVU gained possession, Doege got his turn at being pummeled into the turf. A two-yard drive backward sent Doege lightly into a mess of linemen, but the damage from Jah Joyner was already done.

Joyner’s work paved the way for the Golden Gopher offense to pound the Mountaineers once again. A mixture of Thomas and Irving combined for 36 yards that moved Minnesota down inside the WVU 31-yard line. Trickett’s second attempt at a field goal went better than the first; the ball sailed 49 yards and through the uprights to bolster the Golden Gopher lead to 18-6.

Doege’s fifth sack of the night was then courtesy of Tyler Nubin. It drove an already lackluster offensive presence back an additional eight yards, and a fourth down opportunity was squandered by the Mountaineers. The positivity was about to momentarily shift for West Virginia though. What the offense was failing to do, the WVU defense was shining in. A great third down shot from Morgan was intercepted by Woods at the WVU 41-yard line, and the Mountaineers regained possession. What hope for momentum change existed soon dwindled when redshirt freshman quarterback Garrett Greene came in for the first snap of the drive; seconds later, he fumbled the ball for a loss of three yards. Doege was sent back in to conclude the last seconds of the third quarter, but once more, the damage was done. Sumpter kicked off the final quarter of play with a 43-yard punt.

Thomas and Irving picked up right where they left off: short-yardage plays meant to advance the ball indefinitely. Those rushes added up, but the ball got swallowed up in the middle of the field, earning WVU another possession. In a moment of the game that could have been a complete momentum change, the Mountaineers staged another three-and-out. For the remaining two minutes, the Golden Gophers steadily brought the ball back down the field via the unguardable Irving and Thomas, but didn’t add any additional points. The Golden Gophers took the Guaranteed Rate Bowl victory home 18-6 in Fleck’s ninth win of the season.

WVU concluded its offensive game with only 191 yards of total offense to Minnesota’s 358; Furthermore, West Virginia was held to a measly 51 rushing yards. Despite battling back from 2-4 in the latter part of the season, Brown and the Mountaineers will finish 2021 at 6-7.

(Photo Courtesy of WVU Athletics)

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