The West Virginia football team finished up its season in Phoenix, Ariz. Tuesday night, falling to the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, 18-6.
West Virginia (6-7) was able to move the ball through the air Tuesday, but it wasn’t able to keep up with Minnesota’s (9-4) elite rushing attack and its size on both sides of the ball.
West Virginia did show some flashes defensively however, but the Golden Gophers were able to make more plays down the stretch, recording five sacks compared to three from the Mountaineers. The Golden Gophers also dominated West Virginia on the ground, amassing 249 rushing yards compared to 66 for the Mountaineers, and that truly was the game’s deciding factor.
Minnesota, known for its prolific running attack, unexpectedly took a balanced approach for its first drive leading all the way down into the red zone. After a stout defensive stand including a sack on quarterback Tanner Morgan, the Golden Gophers took a 33-yard field goal try with kicker Matthew Trickett, but it curved wide left.
After three pass attempts led to a West Virginia punt, Minnesota picked the ball back up and went right back to the pass. Receiver Dylan Wright made his second big catch of the night from Morgan, but the drive stumbled as running back Ky Thomas fumbled the ball, giving it back to the Mountaineers.
Two sacks on quarterback Jarrett Doege killed West Virginia’s third drive, leading to another punt deep in its own territory. Minnesota takes over near midfield, taking the ball on the ground for its third red zone trip.
The game’s first score comes from the Gophers, being a handoff to 380-pound tackle Daniel Faalele for a two-yard rushing touchdown. Minnesota also completed a two-point conversion on a short trick play on the ground.
West Virginia finally began to move the ball on its fourth drive, with Doege leading the Mountaineers deep into Minnesota territory through the air. After a pair of penalties pulled the Mountaineers near the goal line, Doege capped off the first touchdown for West Virginia by running it in for a one-yard touchdown.
After a few stale plays for Minnesota down the stretch, Thomas opens up a big hole on the ground for the Gophers, leading to a 50-yard carry putting Minnesota in the red zone. Another carry from Thomas leads to a five-yard rushing touchdown, putting the Gophers up 15-6 before half.
The second half begins with two quick drives for both teams, with Minnesota finally moving the football on its second drive of the half. After moving into West Virginia territory with the rushing attack, Trickett extends the Gophers’ lead with a 48-yard field goal.
Answering that drive was Doege and the Mountaineers, putting together a strong drive of their own up to midfield, but a sack and a failed fourth-down conversion led` to another Minnesota possession. The possession didn’t last long however, as West Virginia’s cornerback Charles Woods intercepted Morgan’s pass, giving them a chance to make a comeback as the fourth quarter began.
After a West Virginia punt following the turnover, the Gophers came out looking to seal the game and was able to burn the rest of the game on the ground with Thomas and backup running back Mar’Keise Irving.
The offense struggled all the way to the end, with Doege going 18-of-31 passing for 140 yards and one interception, with one touchdown coming on the ground. Running back Tony Mathis Jr. led the rushing for West Virginia, adding 13 carries for 56 yards on the ground
Thomas was Minnesota’s best player with 21 carries for 144 rushing yards and a touchdown. Irving also made a big contribution, adding on 19 carries of his own, for 129 yards.