DALLAS — Sophomore running back Zack Moss had a proclamation after Utah’s 30-14 win over West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
“Get ready for 2018, he said after rushing for 150 yards as the Utes capped their fourth consecutive winning season. They finished 7-6 overall.
“We’ve grown up a lot,” Moss said. “We had a lot of young guys starting for us this year on both sides of the ball.”
As such, Moss acknowledged there were some growing pains before the team got some swagger and learned who they are as a group.
“Going into next year I think it’s going to be real good for us,” Moss said while addressing the maturity that took place,
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said there’s a good nucleus returning, but added that the Utes are also losing a good group of seniors. Many, he expects, will be playing on Sundays in the future.
“But we think we’ve got a good group coming back, like I said. We’ll see how hard they work and what kind of leadership we can generate,” Whittingham continued. “The Pac-12 is a challenge every single year. Everyone else probably feels like they’ve got a good group coming back as well.”
Whittingham noted that the conference is very competitive and they’ll just have to see what happens.
“We were really close this year,” he said in reference to losses to Stanford, USC and Washington by a combined total of seven points.
Had Utah prevailed in those games, the Utes would have won 10 games this season.
“But nobody cares because we (didn’t),” Whittingham said. “But I guess the positive of that is we were not that far away.”
Sophomore cornerback Julian Blackmon, who had two interceptions on Tuesday, is optimistic.
“With our defense we’re going to be really good next year and I’m excited,” he said.
BOTH SIDES: Players on both offense and defense were pleased with how things turned out in Dallas. Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley believes it would have worked out even better if it weren’t for the weather.
“If it wasn’t raining it would have been amazing by the offense,” he said. “But we did our job. Our defense did our job and, hey, we came out with a win, That’s always the great part.”
Junior linebacker Cody Barton, who recovered two fumbles against West Virginia, explained that the defense came out hustling and things fell into their hands nicely. The key to everything, he added, was effort.
“We came out prepared and gave it to them,” Barton said.
LESSONS LEARNED: Before receiving his MVP award, Blackmon expounded on expectations inside Utah’s program.
“One thing we’ve learned is we don’t lose to the Team Down South and we don’t lose bowl games,” Blackmon said. “So we took it really serious this year and the outcome was really good.”
NOT A LOT: The announced attendance was 20,507. There were plenty of no-shows, however. Utah officials purchased 1,500, used internally for players, coaches and staff.
“We have really good fan support and the people are good at the bowl, but there’s a reality that the date and the distance is difficult. I mean, it is that simple,” said Utah athletics director Dr. Chris Hill. “West Virginia’s a Big 12 school, so it’s a good Power-5 team to play — but at the end of the day it is simple. We have good fans. Fans that are interested. But it’s a good distance and right after Christmas.”
EXTRA POINTS: Linebackers Kavika Luafatasaga and Donavan Thompson shared team-high honors with six tackles apiece . . . Darren Carrington II led the receiving corps with four catches for 62 yards in his final game with the Utes. He finished the season with 70 receptions . . . West Virginia recorded six sacks, while Utah had two . . . The Utes were 5-for-5 in the red zone with three field goals and two touchdowns.