Zach Moss took a third-down handoff, burst through the line and found room in the middle of the field. And Utah was off and running to another bowl victory.
Moss rushed for 150 yards, including a career-long 58-yard touchdown run on the Utes’ opening drive Tuesday as they beat West Virginia 30-14 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. They are now 11-1 in postseason games under Kyle Whittingham, who matched Alabama’s Nick Saban for the most bowl wins by an active coach.
“He knows how to coach the team, and he always caps the year off right,” said Utah sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley, who scored twice on 2-yard keepers.
The Utes led for good in their fifth straight bowl victory after Moss broke free on a drizzly, chilly day at the Cotton Bowl.
“It was very important for us to come out of the gates with a big play early on and set the tone,” said Moss, who, like Huntley, still has two seasons left with the Utes (7-6).
West Virginia (7-6) finished the season with its third straight loss. The Mountaineers had only 153 total yards without junior quarterback Will Grier, who broke a finger Nov. 18 against Texas, and 1,000-yard rusher Justin Crawford, a senior who bypassed the bowl game in advance of the NFL draft.
“It was a pretty disappointing loss to end a pretty disappointing season,” Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said. “You never hear me use it as an excuse. If you lose guys, you need guys to step in and play at a high level, and that is the bottom line.”
Grier, whose 34 TD passes were the second-most in a season for West Virginia, already has said he will return next year for his senior season.
Whittingham’s debut as head coach was a Fiesta Bowl win at the end of the 2004 season. He co-coached that game with Urban Meyer, who had taken the Florida job three weeks earlier but returned to be part of Utah’s postseason win over Pittsburgh after his defensive coordinator had been promoted to head coach.
Under Whittingham, the Utes prepare for bowl games like regular-season games, often in full pads and with lots of conditioning work. There is also a little bit of peer pressure.
“We’ve got a group of guys and have had several groups of guys come here that take a lot of pride in their bowl performance and the bowl record that we have,” Whittingham said. “This group was no different. Each subsequent group doesn’t want to be the group that lets the previous groups down. They want to keep that bowl prowess alive.”
Both of Huntley’s TDs came after West Virginia miscues. The first came after a muffed punt return set Utah up at the Mountaineers’ 13, and the second came after an offside penalty on a short punt gave the Utes a second chance on fourth down. Huntley then completed a 25-yard pass on the fourth-and-3 play before scoring on another short run.
Mississippi: Defensive lineman Breeland Speaks has decided to skip his final year of college eligibility and enter the NFL draft. Speaks released a statement through the school confirming the decision Tuesday.
The 6-foot-3, 285-pound junior finished second on the team with 67 tackles this fall, including eight for a loss and seven sacks. He led the team with eight quarterback hurries.