WVU football ended its 2021 season on a low note as the Mountaineers fell to Minnesota 18-6 in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix on Tuesday.
Although the scoreline shows just a two-possession deficit, Minnesota was in the driver’s seat throughout the contest as the Gopher offense dominated the time of possession battle, holding the ball for 38 minutes and 29 seconds. On the other side of the game, WVU’s offense mustered just 206 yards — its second-lowest total of the season.
West Virginia’s defense had a strong start, producing two red zone stops to keep the Gophers out of the end zone in the first quarter. The offense couldn’t capitalize on these opportunities, punting on all three of its drives in the period.
Minnesota offensive lineman Daniel Faalele started the scoring off early in the second quarter for the first points of the game with a two-yard punch-in run. After the score, Gopher head coach PJ Fleck opted to make things interesting as he ran a fake field goal, which his team converted for the two points.
West Virginia answered with its longest drive of the game, going 12 plays for 75 yards. WVU coach Neal Brown responded to Fleck’s gutsy call with one of his own, going for it on 4th and one on the goal line — Jarret Doege ended up punctuating the drive with a touchdown run from a yard out. The Mountaineers also went for two, but unlike their opponents, their conversion failed.
That was the last semblance of offense for the Mountaineers in the game — four of their six drives to finish the game ended in punts, with the remaining two finishing with turnovers.
Not only did Minnesota get better opportunities than WVU, but they took advantage of them as well. On average, the Golden Gophers started their drives on their own 34, while the Mountaineers’ average drive start was their own 18. Minnesota also held on to the ball, nearly doubling WVU’s time of possession for the game.
Minnesota’s ownership of the clock came from a strong run game, which accounted for 249 of the team’s 358 yards. Ky Thomas led the offense with 144 yards on the ground and a touchdown, followed by Mar’Kiese Irving’s 129 yards.
WVU, on the other hand, had just 206 yards of offense, 140 of which came from Doege’s arm. The quarterback also added an interception at the end of the first half.
Doege struggled with the Minnesota pressure, which sacked him five times and hurried him another two times. Esezi Otomewo was the only player with multiple sacks, bringing the signal caller down twice on the night.
West Virginia linebacker Lance Dixon led the game with 11 total tackles, including eight solo stops. Charles Woods added a pick for WVU, while Michael Dixon logged the only interception for Minnesota.
This loss marks the first for Neal Brown in a bowl game. WVU finishes the season with a 6-7 overall record, the second losing record in three seasons under Brown. Minnesota completes a 9-4 record under Fleck.
WVU’s 2022 campaign begins on Sept. 3, 2022 at Pitt.