Mountaineers defense showcases potential vs. Utes

DALLAS — If Utah’s first drive was a sign of things to come, few would have been surprised if the Mountaineers had given up 50 or 60 points.

But the WVU Defense stepped up its effort after Zack Moss rushed for a 58-yard touchdown less than four minutes into the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 26, at the Cotton Bowl.

“I thought the defense, after the first drive, we played well,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “The first drive was atrocious. Defensively, we played well enough to win.”

Senior captain Al-Rasheed Benton took responsibility for the Utes’ first touchdown.

“We made a mistake as far as adjustments on that play, and I put that completely on me,” Benton said.

After Moss’ touchdown, the Mountaineers (7-6) allowed two more touchdowns and held the Utes (7-6) to a trio of field goals.

They applied an ample amount of pressure on Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley, whom they sacked six times.

Kyzir White finished with 13 tackles – more than double the amount of tackles of any Utah defender — along with a sack and a 1.5 tackles for a loss.

Dylan Tonkery had eight tackles, a sack and two tackles for a loss, while Benton and Kenny Robinson recorded eight tackles apiece.

Huntley rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns but didn’t have a passing touchdown.

While the offense didn’t provide much support on Tuesday, the defense — which returns seven starters in 2018 — proved that it could be a perfect complement to the formidable offense when Grier returns.

MHS GRAD COMMODORE MAKES KEY PLAY: Mountaineers senior safety Shane Commodore, a Morgantown High graduate, registered a tackle and recovered a fumble in the loss. He finished his career with 21 tackles.

Commodore played in all 13 games this season for the Mountaineers and was tied for third on the team in special teams tackles entering the season finale.

STRONG GAME FOR STALEY: Because of WVU’s potent offense under Will Grier, the Mountaineers didn’t attempt many field goals, but redshirt freshman kicker Evan Staley made four of his five attempts during the season. He added two more field goals on Dec. 26, from 28 and 26 yards, respectively. It was his second multiple field goal effort of the season and first since he kicked two in a 20-16 win over Iowa State on Nov. 4.

SECOND LOSS TO UTES IN 53 YEARS: Dec. 26’s game marked the second-ever gridiron meeting between the Mountaineers and Utes. The first one was a 32-6 Utes victory in the 1964 Liberty Bowl when the game was played in Atlantic City, N.J. – the first indoor bowl game. With Tuesday’s unpleasant weather, many folks would have preferred an indoor game.

If WVU and Utah have an identical hiatus between games, they won’t play again until 2070.