DALLAS — Kyle Whittingham has evolved into quite a bowler. Utah’s head coach has amassed an NCAA-best 10-1 record in bowl games.
Whittingham insists there’s no magic structure or process to the success. He credits the “hard work and preparation of the players” for getting the job done.
On Tuesday (11:30 a.m., ESPN), the Utes get another opportunity to do so when they face West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley, who played in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl when Whittingham began his bowl run as co-head coach with Urban Meyer, acknowledged the importance of it to the team — particularly, the veterans.
“The seniors obviously want to keep our bowl winning percentage going and it means a lot to them,” Scalley said.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is well aware of Utah’s bowl accomplishments.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” he said. “Coach Whittingham does a great job with that program. It’s a national brand and we’re excited about this matchup.”
The Mountaineers, though, won’t be coming in at full strength on offense. Junior quarterback Will Grier is out with a broken finger and running back Justin Crawford has opted not to play in order to prepare for the NFL draft.
Sophomore Chris Chugunov, who has just one career start, will be West Virginia’s quarterback.
“I think he’s fully capable of being able to take our team — with a lot of prep work — and be able to play against a good Utah team,” Holgorsen said.
Chugunov will have a pair of stellar receivers as targets. Juniors Gary Jennings and David Sills bring impressive credentials into the bowl game. Jennings has a team-high 94 receptions and Sills leads the nation with 18 touchdowns catches.
Utah, meanwhile, counters with a secondary that will be without freshman cornerback Jaylon Johnson (undisclosed injury).
The Utes will have Tyler Huntley back at quarterback. The sophomore missed the regular-season finale with Colorado with an injury. Top receiver Darren Carrington II (66 receptions) and rushing leader Zack Moss (1,023 yards) give Huntley some weapons to utilize.
Moss had 196 yards and two touchdowns in Utah’s 34-13 win over Colorado on Nov. 25. The victory made the Utes bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive year.
“We’re a better football team when we are physical in the run game and getting those yards,” Whittingham said.
At 6-6, Utah is making its first bowl appearance without a winning record. The Utes wound up filling a vacancy in Dallas created by the Big Ten’s lack of a qualifying team. All of the Pac-12’s pre-arranged bowls were filled.
“It’s hard for our fans. It’s not the ideal timing for people to get (to Dallas),” Whittingham acknowledged. “We’re just excited to be in a bowl. We’re not complaining at all. It’s just the timing is what it is and we’ll just work our way through it.”