Did You Say Utes?
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – What is a Ute?
As it turns out, not just a funny punchline from the movie My Cousin Vinny. The University of Utah, West Virginia’s opponent in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 26, uses the moniker as its nickname based upon the Ute tribe of Native Americans.
Utah went 6-6 this season, and their history of postseason success is no joke. The Utes are 13–4 in bowl games, the highest percentage (.765) in the nation for programs who have been to at least 10 bowls. Utah enjoyed a resurgence under former head coach Urban Meyer, including an 18-game winning streak, and has remained on the national scene with a move to the Pac-12 in 2010. Since 2000, they are 104-44, and have won nine games under 13th-year head coach Kyle Whittingham in three of the last four seasons with three bowl victories.
The Utes have played in 11 bowl games under Whittingham, who has the best bowl win percentage in NCAA history at 91 percent (10-1). The Utes are 110-56 in 13 seasons under Whittingham.
Utah won its first four games this season, then stumbled to a 2-6 finish. The wins of note came versus Arizona, UCLA and Colorado, the last to avoid finishing in the cellar of the Pac-12 South. The Utes have struggled on offense at times this season. ranking ninth in the conference in scoring at 29.5 points per game. Utah averaged 417.7 yards per game, and were more effective throwing, racking up 3,077 yards in the air (256/game) to 1,935 on the ground (161/game) Their 37 touchdowns also ranked ninth in the league.
Quarterback Tyler Huntley has thrown for 2,246 yards (250/game) and 15 scores with 10 interceptions while completing 65.4 percent of his passes. He missed the regular season finale’ with an undisclosed injury, and his status remains unclear for the bowl game. Back-up Troy Williams has completed 60 of 110 passes for 812 yards with two TDs and four interceptions out of the multiple spread look.
Running back Zach Moss has rushed for 1,023 yards (85.3/game) at an average of 5.4 yards per carry. He has nine touchdowns, but his longest carry is just 31 yards. He comes off a career-best 196 yards in the win over Colorado. Wideout Darren Carrington II, a tall, lanky receiver at 6-foot-3, 203 pounds, has 66 catches for 918 yards. No other player has more than 34.
Defensively Utah allowed just 353.8 yards per game, good for third in the Pac-12 behind Washington and Washington State. The Utes were also third in scoring defense at 23.9 points per game, and held half their opponents to 24 or fewer points per game. The most sound facet was the rush defense, which gave up just 139.8 yards per game. The unit is keyed by linebackers Kavika Luafatasaga and Sunia Tauteoli, with 76 and 64 tackles, respectively. Tauteoli has a team-best 10 tackles for loss.
Utah struggled with kickoff returns, averaging just 19 yards, but did net 42.2 yards per punt with Mitch Wishnowsky, among the tops in the nation. Placekicker Matt Gay hit 27-of-31 attempts, including eight of 50 or more yards.
This will be the second meeting between the teams. The only other came in the 1964 Liberty Bowl, which at that time was played in Atlantic City. The game was held at Boardwalk Hall, a convention center. Declared a U.S. Historic Landmark in 1987, just 6,059 attended what was the first ever major college football game held indoors. The center also hosted the Democratic National Convention that year, nominating Lyndon B. Johnson and Hubert Humphrey for President and Vice-President, respectively.
In order for the field to fit, the end zones were each reduced to eight yards. Artificial turf had yet to be invented, and so the bowl spent $16,000 to bring in a four-inch thick layer of grass on top of a layer of burlap over concrete. Utah won 32-6, and the game moved to Memphis the very next season.