West Virginia received the ball first and looked shaky to start the game. After a few short runs and an incomplete pass by quarterback Chris Chugunov, the Mountaineers were forced to punt. It wasn’t long before Utah broke through first on the scoreboard.
On a Drive that lasted four plays and 83 yards, running back Zack Moss found a hole up the middle, and showed his breakaway speed, and took it 58 yards for the opening touchdown.
West Virginia’s next possession went even worse than the first. After a huge return from kick returner Marcus Simms, the Mountaineers were not able to make anything happen as the drive totaled only five yards.
The two teams continued to trade punts the rest of the first quarter, and the quarter ended with the Mountaineers driving, but the Utes on top 7-0.
To open the second quarter, Chugunov and the West Virginia offense continued to drive. Chugunov hooked up with receiver Gary Jennings for 19 yards after hooking up with Marcus Simms for a 33-yard pass play a couple plays before. Unfortunately for West Virginia, the drive was stopped, and kicker Evan Staley came on to knock through a field goal. That made it a 7-3 ball game.
Missed opportunities hurt Utah on their next possession as Huntley threw perfect passes to wide open receivers in the middle of the field that were dropped by his receivers. After the drops, Huntley was sacked by Mountaineers defender Xavier Preston. This was a point in the game where you felt the momentum shifting West Virginia’s way.
Momentum quickly shifted back to Utah though when West Virginia’s David Sills had a punt ricochet off of his helmet, and the ball was recovered by Utah on the Mountaineer 13-yard line. Utes quarterback quickly capitalized on the turnover as it only took three plays for the Utes to score a touchdown, and it was Huntley off of a fake halfback toss. That score extended the lead to 14-3.
Utah added another field goal to end the half and took at 17-3 lead into the locker room.
Utah received the ball to start the 2nd half and was forced to punt. On West Virginia’s first possession of the 2nd half, Utah returned the favor and forced the Mountaineers to punt. After a fumble by Utah’s punter which resulted in West Virginia recovering the ball on the Utah 13-yard line, Chugunov and company were unable to put the ball in the end zone. Evan Staley came on though and kicked his second field goal of the afternoon. That field goal made it 17-6 Utes were still on top.
The third quarter ended with Utah driving. The Utes came out in the fourth quarter and immediately were flagged for a false start. What was a fourth and one turned into a fourth and five. Right after that, West Virginia was called offsides, which made the fourth down play more manageable for Utah. Huntley followed with a screen pass to Carrington which hit pay dirt, but the play was called back because of a holding penalty on the Utes. Huntley wound up taking the ball in himself for his second touchdown of the day. The lead kept growing for Utah as it was 24-6 after the Huntley touchdown.
That Utah defense followed that up by forcing a Chugunov fumble and recovering it deep into Mountaineer territory. Utah was not able to punch it in but settled for a field goal. It extended their lead to 27-6.
Chugunov would throw for the Mountaineers first touchdown of the day as the fourth quarter wound down. The Utes would run the rest of the clock out and became your 2017-2018 Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl Champions. The final score was 30-14.
The Mountaineers continued to struggle on offense in the fourth quarter. Chugunov turned the ball over three times and never found any kind of rhythm all day long. You were easily able to see the effect of Will Grier’s absence on this team. West Virginia’s offense was very sluggish and totaled
Utah’s Zack Moss and Tyler Huntley were the shining stars on this day. You could’ve easily put the Utes defense in that conversation as well. Huntley had two rushing touchdowns on the day and Moss had one as well. The Utes defense forced three turnovers on the day as well.
Moss finished with over 150 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Huntley had two rushing touchdowns as well.
It sure seemed like Utah put those what-ifs behind them today, and ended their 2017 season on a very good note. After the game, Head Coach Kyle Whittingham was nothing less than ecstatic. Whittingham thanked the city of Arlington, Zaxby's, and the Cotton Bowl for allowing this game to occur.
But Whittingham also had praise for the bowl MVP, Julian Blackmon. Blackmon finished the game with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Whittingham said, “I think he’s one of the best corners in the country, if not THE best in the country. He’s only a sophomore and I’m glad he’s ours for the next couple years”.
Also, when asked how big Zack Moss’s 50+ yard touchdown was on their opening drive, Whittingham said, “I think it’s always important to score first. It puts the other team on their heels, and with those guys on the other side not have two key offensive weapons, it was only that much more crucial”.
Utah will be an interesting team to keep an eye on next season as they have most of their core players coming back. Though the Pac-12 is always a tough conference to navigate throughout the year, Utah can easily be a dark horse.
Same goes for the Mountaineers. Will Grier will be healthy to start the season and will have most of his weapons coming back. There are also a lot of key defensive starters coming back. Coach Holgorsen will for sure have West Virginia competing in a wide-open Big-12 next season.