Heart of Dallas Bowl
This Game could’ve been more exciting and West Virginia may have gotten a different bowl, but without Will Grier, this isn’t the same team. In the Heart of Dallas Bowl, the Mountaineers take on a Utah team that struggled with consistency throughout the season and only had three wins in Pac-12 play. Still, the Utes moved to -7.5 point favorites in mid-December as seen at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
While Grier is returning for the 2018 season, all signs point to him not playing in this Game, which is the main reason the Utes are favored by more than a touchdown. WVU released its depth chart two weeks before the Game without Grier on it, signaling that Chris Chugunov will likely get the start. That changes everything for this Game because the Mountaineers have only been able to win Games through offense. Without Grier (34 touchdowns) and top running back Justin Crawford (1,061 yards, 7 TDs), this group will look much different.
Chugunov hasn’t been asked to do much in the last two Games, throwing 46 times, barely completing 50 percent of his passes. Utah doesn’t have a good defense, but still allowed just 23.9 points per Game and that could be enough to stop Chugunov and company. Kennedy McKoy, who ran for 137 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season finale against Oklahoma, will see just as many carries in this Game. The Utes allowed 4.1 yards per carry, so that’s the reason anyone will back WVU. Otherwise, banking on Chugunov to match what Grier did this season would be a mistake. Gary Jennings, David Sills and Ka’Raun White have had great seasons at wide out, but that may not matter in this one.
To have a chance, West Virginia’s defense needs to show up, something that hasn’t happened all season. The Mountaineers were brutal giving up more than 31 points and 200 rushing yards per Game. They had some good results later in the season holding Iowa State to 16 and Kansas State to 23 points, but that’s still hard to count on.
The good thing for WVU is that Utah doesn’t have that good of an offense, and that’s a main reason this team had just three Conference wins. The Utes didn’t beat anyone of relevance and had trouble against most Pac-12 offenses.
Similar to WVU, the Utes will try and run the ball as much as possible. Zack Moss had a decent season with 1,023 yards and nine touchdowns, and is coming off his best performance with 196 yards and two TDs against Colorado. Given WVU’s struggles against the run, Moss could have similar success against this defense. As long as that works, that may be all Utah needs even with a question at quarterback. Tyler Huntley didn’t make the final regular season Game because of injury, but it was looking likely he would play in the bowl. Either way, senior Troy Williams should be just fine at quarterback if Utah can run the ball as expected.
Utah is getting a lot of the money because Grier is out, but it can’t be forgotten that Chugunov got some late-season experience and has almost a month of practice ahead of the bowl. That’ll definitely be something to consider, especially since Utah isn’t the type of team that’s going to run away on the scoreboard.
The Utes have covered in their last Four against the Big 12 and are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 bowl Games. The Mountaineers haven’t covered in their last Four bowl Games and are 1-4-1 ATS in their last six overall.
Our Pick – West Virginia +6.5 (weak call)