DALLAS — In the corner of the WVU fan section, a slew of Mountaineers fans waved hand-made cardboard signs that projected bright and sunny days ahead for the Mountaineers football program.
While the future could be promising, the present at Dec. 26’s Heart of Dallas Bowl reflected the cold, foggy afternoon at the historic Cotton Bowl stadium.
The Mountaineers (7-6) couldn’t move the ball on the ground or air, and lost to Utah (7-6), 30-14, in 60 minutes of football that were as dreary as the north Texas weather. The Utes outgained WVU, 362-153, including a whopping 197-29 on the ground.
The Mountaineers converted on just two of 14 third downs.
“It was a pretty disappointing loss to end a disappointing season,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I want the guys who are coming back next year to remember how this felt.”
Holgorsen said the Mountaineers can’t use injuries to starters as an excuse. They were missing four offensively, including junior quarterback Will Grier, running back Justin Crawford, and offensive linemen Yodny Cajuste and Kyle Bosch.
“You need guys to step up and play better, and they didn’t,” Holgorsen said.
Grier was on the sidelines Tuesday and spoke to the media after the game.
“I wanted to help any way I could — Chugs always had me around to ask questions,” Grier said. “I’m in playing shape, but the hand has to heal. When they clear me, I’ll be excited to get back to work.”
Backup quarterback Chris Chugunov finished 9-of-28 with 129 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Chugonov’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Ka’Raun White with 1:58 remaining in the game helped the Mountaineers avoid scoring single figures in a bowl game for the first time since the 2010 Champs Sports Bowl. It was White’s 12th touchdown reception of the season and Chugunov’s third touchdown pass.
WVU dropped its third-consecutive game, as well as the third bowl game in four years.
Perhaps no other play illustrated the Mountaineers’ offensive woes more than a second quarter play that was intended for running back Kennedy McKoy to throw a pass. McKoy dropped the initial lateral pass from Chugunov.
Gary Jennings led the Mountaineers in receiving with three catches for 66 yards. All-American receiver David Sills, who announced he will return for his senior year, finished without a reception for the first time this year.
McKoy led the rushing game with 14 carries for 31 yards.
Making matters worse for WVU, Utah all but gift-wrapped a touchdown in the third quarter when the Utes held a 17-3 lead.
Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky fumbled at the Ute 9-yard-line. The Mountaineers recovered but went 3-and-out before Evan Staley booted his second field goal of the game, a 26-yarder with 6:43 left in the third quarter to make it 17-6.
WVU had only a mathematical chance at victory by the time Chugunov threw an interception with 8:07 in the fourth quarter and the Utes ahead, 27-6.
WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital called some of the hits on Chugunov “unnecessary.”
“He took some shots,” Spavital said. “It might have rattled him a little toward the end of the game.”
Although Mountaineers fans had no illusions about a spectacular offensive output, sans Grier, WVU tied a season-low for points with 14 — 22.3 points below their season average.
It was just the second time this season they’d been held below 20 points this season.