Utah Utes (6-6 SU, 8-3-1 ATS) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5 SU, 6-6 ATS)
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl Preview
Date/Time: Tuesday December 26th, 2017. 1:30PM (EST)
Where: Cotton Bowl Dallas, T.X.
by Jay, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: UTAH -6.5/WVU +6.5
Over/Under Total: 56.5
If you do not have to work the day after Christmas, you will have the luxury of waking up to college football when the Utah Utes meet the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the historic Cotton Bowl. The Utes slipped into a postseason bowl berth with their 34-13 victory over Colorado in the season finale to reach the 6 win mark. It was a tough year for Kyle Whittingham’s bunch as they were beaten up in the Pac-12 play to suffer their worst season since 2013. However, the Utes could still achieve a rare accomplishment when they seek their 4th straight bowl victory in consecutive years when they meet the Mountaineers in Dallas.
On paper, these two teams live up to their reputations. The Utes have historically had strong defenses under Whittingham and that is the case again this year as Utah ranks 31st in the nation holding opponents to just 353 yards per game. Those numbers would probably have been a lot better if you discount the offensive struggles and turnover issues. The Utes offense turned the ball over 24 times this year with 10 fumbles and 14 interceptions. The turnovers put the Utes in the bottom 20 teams in the FBS in terms of turnovers lost. Therefore, I think you could make the case that this Utah defense is better than the numbers suggest and will be a tough match for this West Virginia offense.
On offense, Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley is still officially listed as a question mark. However, Coach Whittingham has confirmed confidence that Huntley will be the quarterback for the Utes when both teams line up inside the Cotton Bowl. Huntley has been a decent quarterback for Utah despite some turnover issues. However, he is still much better than Troy Williams who would fill in if Huntley was unable to compete. Still, this offense is more inclined to establish the run against West Virginia’s soft defensive front. Meaning Huntley and running back Zach Moss will be featured often with the play call. Moss leads the team with 1,023 yards and 9 touchdowns averaging over 5 yards per carry. Considering West Virginia’s defense is giving up over 200 yards rushing on average per game, I would expect the Utes to put heavy focus towards running the football.
From the reputation standpoint, West Virginia brings in one of the most productive offenses in the country to Dallas. The Mountaineers have racked up 485 yards and 36.3 points per game on the season. Both marks rank inside the top 20 teams on offense. The West Virginia defense has been a different story and perhaps one of the worst in the Big 12. West Virginia’s defense has given up over 31 points and 452 yards per game on average this year. However, that is not exactly nothing new for Head Coach Dana Holgorsen during his tenure in Morgantown. Despite the defensive concerns, West Virginia’s offense still deserves the respect as a group that rack up a lot of yards and points in any given matchup.
The problem the West Virginia offense has going into the Heart of Dallas Bowl is not necessarily a tough Utah defense but primarily who is going to lead this group? Running back Justin Crawford announced that he would skip the bowl game as he focused on the upcoming NFL Draft. Crawford led the Mountaineers with more than 1,000 yards on the ground this season and was a big part of the offense.
Along with Crawford’s announcement, the team has also been very tight lipped surrounding quarterback Will Grier’s status. Grier broke his finger in the loss to Texas and needed surgery to fix the injury. The early reports expected Grier to be back in time for the bowl game but no official word has been given. The good news for West Virginia fans is that Grier announced he would return for his senior season which should give Holgorsen another dangerous offense in 2018. Grier has posted a very solid season this year completing over 64% passing for 3,490 yards with 34 touchdowns and 12 picks. The Mountaineers have 3 different receivers that may end up with over 1,000 yards receiving in Gary Jennings, David Sills V, and Ka’Raun White. Jennings has already passed the 1,000 yard mark while both Sills and White need just 22 yards. Therefore if Grier is able to play, they will have plenty of weapons to target against this Utah defense.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I think if this was a mid-year game that West Virginia is likely the better team. However, I believe Utah has the match-up advantage and typically rises to the occasion in these postseason bowl games. Take Utah -6.5 - Bet your pick for this game using your credit card at an online bookie where it WILL work for deposits and where you’ll receive a generous 50% signup bonus on your first deposit of $100 to $250! (Example: Deposit $250 and they’ll give you an extra $250 FREE!) Find this great offer at Bovada Sportsbook.