WVU Back-ups Subpar In Heart of Dallas Defeat
DALLAS – There was little said when West Virginia was done. Any explanation was apparent on the field, where the Mountaineers pieced together their worst offensive performance in years in the 30-14 Heart of Dallas Bowl defeat to Utah.
Among the few positives from a game where there was a special teams fumble, two interceptions, numerous missed throws and another pair of fumbles to go with a season-low 153 yards? Head coach Dana Holgorsen thought WVU’s defense “played well enough to win.”
The Mountaineers forced Utah into four consecutive punts after allowing an opening-drive touchdown, but were continually hurt by the turnovers and the offensive ineptitude that put the defense on the field for 80 plays. The Utes racked up 362 yards, including 197 on the ground, but were held off the scoreboard enough that an offense with a pulse would have kept the team in the game. Instead, WVU trailed 17-3 at the half and showed they lacked the comeback ability after getting down 24-6 in the fourth quarter.
“Defensively after the first drive I thought we played well,” Holgorsen said. “The first drive was atrocious. They didn’t touch anybody. I thought we played well after that. A couple bad situations and usually that’s our M.O., to hold guys to field goals in that situation. We didn’t do as good a job as we needed to at that. But we played well enough to win defensively.”
No where else, however. The offense managed nine completions and just 29 rushing yards – the third-fewest in the last 21 years. WVU punted nine times and scored on just three drives while committing three turnovers in the two interceptions and a fumble. That’s not counting the Marcus Simms punt muff that handed Utah a touchdown for a 14-3 lead after the Utes drive just 13 yards.
West Virginia was missing two starting offensive linemen in guard Kyle Bosch and tackle Yodny Cajuste to go with Justin Crawford’s decision not to play and the injury to Will Grier that sidelined him for the final two-plus games of the season. But that still doesn’t hold enough sway that the offense should have looked this decrepit, this unable to move the ball in the slightest.
“You’ve never heard me use that as an excuse,” Holgorsen said. “You need guys to step in and play at a high level. That’s the bottom line. We struggled up front. Down two starters guys need to step in and play better and they didn’t. You lose a quarterback like Will Grier and you need the back-up to go in and play great and he didn’t. If your back-ups don’t go in an play at a high level you get beat against good teams.”
And .500 teams as well, Utah entering with a 6-6 record and leaving with an 11th bowl win in 12 tries. West Virginia, meanwhile, had just five second-half yards deep into the fourth quarter in losing for a fourth time in the last five bowls under Holgorsen. WVU has averaged seven wins per season since joining the Big 12 in 2012.
“A few guys stepped up and said to remember how this feels now because in 2018 we want this to be a more successful season,” said Holgorsen, whose team will return Grier, David Sills, Cajuste and a large portion of the defense. “We understand we have a lot of work to do. Publicly want to thank those 18 seniors who made the trip. They have done a lot for our program. It upsets me not to be able to send them out with a victory.”