WVU’s Offensive Performance Just That In Bowl Setback

Mountaineers With Historical Lows In Heart Of Dallas Loss

DALLAS – While Chris Chugunov didn’t help himself in the Heart of Dallas Bowl loss, the same was true of West Virginia helping him.

The sophomore quarterback, making just his second career start, was routinely pummeled and pushed on his back by a Utah front that handily won the battle along the line of scrimmage. Down two starters up front, WVU was forced to shuffle the line a touch and instead of the likes of Kyle Bosch and Yodny Cajuste, were playing Isiah Hardy and Kelby Wickline.

West Virginia center Matt Jones makes a blocking assignment

That, combined with the ability of Utah team captain and tackle Lowe Lotulelei to control Mountaineer center Matt Jones and demand a double team from the interior line created issues in pass protection. Chugunov took a series of shots early, and that continued for much of the game as the completed just 9-of-28 passes for 129 yards and two interceptions with a late score. Chugunov never looked comfortable and missed an open touchdown pass to Marcus Simms while routinely being off target on a series of throws.

“I worried up front,” WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “That’s tough when moving a bunch of bodies around. We were healthy until we got here, then we got banged up a little bit (with Cajuste’s hamstring pull). They are a good front. We knew what we were getting into. They controlled the line of scrimmage. We couldn’t establish the run, just couldn’t pop it.”

That was also a major part of it. Chugunov seldom had the advantage of staying ahead of the chains, instead facing second an third and longs – downs and distances that allowed Utah to dial up additional pressures. That helped the Utes’ man-to-man on the outside, which then in turn allowed them to bring extra defenders into the box to create a numbers advantage.

If that reads like a snowball effect, it is, and West Virginia’s bowl chances were buried under the avalanche of mistakes and miscues combined with lack of execution and a clear talent deficiency without Will Grier and, to a lesser extent, Justin Crawford.

“They have big, tough defensive tackles that are hard to move,” Spavital said. “They are a physical front. Going in, the message the entire week, the entire bowl prep, was to be the most physical team. That’s a team that takes a lot of pride in it and we weren’t the most physical team at all. That was pretty obvious.

“We were max pro. They were rushing four and we were blocking with seven to try and limit the unnecessary hits on Chugs. You gotta give him credit; He sat in there for awhile and took some shots. I think he might have gotten a little rattled at the end after taking some unnecessary hits.”

The end result was a historically poor performance. Just how bad was it? West Virginia’s 29 rushing yards are the third-fewest in the Dana Holgorsen era and the third-worst total for the Mountaineers in 21 seasons. The 153 total offensive yards are the fewest since the Mountaineers had 138 versus Virginia Tech in a 27-0 defeat in 1995. That’s 22 years and more than 250 games. The 153 is also the sixth-worst since 1978.

That means the game is among the worst half dozen or so, statistically, since the beginning of what’s termed the “Modern Era” of college football from 1980 onward.

“The game plan going in was to mix the packages for Chugs with the Wildcat,” Spavital said. “There was a David Sills package to try and get the run game going because they were a man free team. We didn’t do a very good job getting a push. That forced us to throw the ball around and I thought the protection was bad, too. We settled down later in the game and got some good protection, but that’s a tough game.”

In the end, nothing worked. Though West Virginia wants to look forward – and immediately – it helps to take a look back with some reflection as to how things reached this point.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Spavital said in a rather understated comment. “We have to get that (physical) mentality back. Get back to work and start grinding on these guys.”