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2017 Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl preview

The Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl will pit the Utah Utes against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the first post-Christmas bowl game. The Pac-12 and Big 12 conferences will go at it, but there are some important players who may not play. Here are how the two teams will stack up:

 

Utah Utes (6-6)

2017 Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl Preview
Zack Moss (Photo by slttrib.com)

Utah had a four-game losing streak in Pac-12 play, but were still able to scratch and claw their way to a bowl game. They beat two bowl eligible teams this year in Arizona and UCLA. Four of their six losses came by one possession.

The offense is decent, but has had tough times figuring out its identity this year. They have scored 29.5 points per game. Surprisingly, their running game lagged the passing game this season. Zack Moss rushed for 1,023 yards and nine touchdowns. Quarterback Tyler Huntley is the team’s second leading rusher with 480 yards and four touchdowns.

Huntley usurped the starting quarterback role from Troy Williams this season, for the most part. In the losses to Stanford and USC, Huntley did not play. To go along with his rushing yards, Huntley has thrown for 2,246 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Former Oregon receiver Darren Carrington is the leading receiver on the team with 918 yards and six touchdowns.

Their defense has been able to keep most teams at bay with 23.9 points allowed per game. They rank 37th against the run and 52nd against the pass. Sophomore defensive lineman Bradlee Anae leads the team with seven sacks and three forced fumbles.

West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5)

2017 Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl preview
David Sills V (Photo by hailwv.com)

The Mountaineers had an up and down season, but got a solid seven wins. Their quality wins include Kansas State, Iowa State and Texas Tech. They lost the last two games of the season, to Oklahoma and Texas, which thwarted any hopes of being in the Big 12 Championship Game.

West Virginia is all about offense and score 36.3 points per game. Their passing game is better than the running game, but the running game is still solid. Justin Crawford has led the team in rushing with over 1,000 yards on the season, but has decided to sit out the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft. This means Kennedy McCoy, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry will need to step up in this game.

Will Grier has been a great quarterback for the Mountaineers, but he broke his finger late in the season. He will not play in this game. Because he can’t go in this game, Chris Chugunov will take over. He did not look good when filling in for Grier at the end of the Texas game and the entire Oklahoma game, but extra preparation time before the bowl game should help.

They have plenty of talented receivers in Morgantown. Gary Jennings leads the team with 94 receptions and 1,030 receiving yards, while David Sills V led the entire country in receiving touchdowns with 18. Ka’Raun White, the brother of former West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White, has done well too with 978 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. All three receivers have over 900 yards this season.

With the offense being so good, the defense lags behind and gives up 31.6 points per game. They rank 105th against the run and 99th against the pass. Senior linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton is tied for eighth in the country with 73 solo tackles.

Prediction

With Grier in the game, this pick likely would’ve gone West Virginia’s way. Chugunov hasn’t looked good and has made Utah the favorite in this game. They will use their physicality and solid defense to win the game.

Utah Utes 30 West Virginia Mountaineers 21

 

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