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Heart of Dallas Bowl notebook: Defense set the tone in Utah's win over West Virginia

DALLAS — Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP Julian Blackmon headlined a strong showing by the Utah defense in the Utes’ 30-14 win over West Virginia. The sophomore had two interceptions in the victory.

“I think he is one of the best corners in the country,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s a true sophomore, and he has some incredible skills and a skillset that you look for at that cornerback spot.”

Blackmon was one of several standouts for Utah on defense. Defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei had 2.5 tackles for loss, linebacker Cody Barton had two fumble recoveries (one on special teams), and defensive back Boobie Hobbs has two pass breakups. Defensive end Bradlee Anae was credited with two quarterback hurries.

The Utes held West Virginia to 153 yards of total offense and just six first downs.

“We’re here to play and dominate and I feel like that’s what we did this game,” Blackmon said.

SENIOR SEND-OFF: Whittingham expressed how proud he was of the Utes for ending the season on a high note. He praised the team for their hard work in bowl prep, including practices, meetings, lifting and conditioning.

“The whole deal,” Whittingham said. “It paid dividends.”

Whittingham was especially happy for the seniors.

“They really were freshmen when we were coming off those two 5-7 seasons and they really helped us get traction in this league, in the Pac-12,” he said. “(They) played a lot of good football for us and did a lot of good things for us.”

IN RESPONSE: When asked about matching Alabama’s Nick Saban for the most bowl victories (11) among active coaches, Whittingham referred to lyrics by singer Joe Walsh. One of Whittingham’s favorite songs by the artist he called “the coolest guy on the planet” was used to answer the question.

“I’m just lucky that way,” Whittingham said. “So there we go.”

SHORT-HANDED SQUADS: Both teams were without key players. Utah had safety Chase Hansen, cornerback Casey Hughes, linebacker Sunia Tauteoli, as well as wide receivers Brian Thompson and Siaosi Wilson sidelined with undisclosed injuries.

West Virginia played without starting quarterback Will Grier (dislocated finger) and running back Justin Crawford (NFL draft preparation).

“You never hear me use it as an excuse,” said coach Dana Holgorsen. “If you lose guys, you need guys to step in and play at a high level, and that is the bottom line.”

MOSS MOVES UP: Running back Zack Moss, who entered the game as the first Utah freshman or sophomore to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Keith Williams in 1991, had 150 yards on Tuesday. The sophomore finished the season with 1,173 yards, putting him in a tie with Mike Anderson (1998) for seventh-best on the program’s all-time list behind John White (1,519 yards, 2011), Devontae Booker (1,514, 2014), Carl Monroe (1,507, 1992), Joe Williams (1,407, 2016), Dameon Hunter (1,396, 2001) and Darrell Mack (1,204, 2007).

EXTRA POINTS: The Utes have now won 17 bowl games overall. … This was Utah’s second game in the Cotton Bowl Stadium. The Utes topped SMU 21-17 here in 1996. … Scouts from the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, CFL’s Montreal Alouettes and Saskatchewan Roughriders, plus indoor football’s Dallas Marshals were credentialed for the game.


Twitter: @DirkFacer