The West Virginia Mountaineers are back to bowling as they’ve traveled to Phoenix, Arizona to face Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Tuesday. Kickoff between the Mountaineers and the Golden Gophers is set for 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Neal Brown heads to his second postseason trip at the helm of WVU’s football program after the squad punched its ticket with a win on the final game of the season. He is no stranger to bowl season, however, as he has won all four of his bowl appearances in six years as a Division I head coach.
Brown squares off against Minnesota’s PJ Fleck, who is making his third bowl appearance with Minnesota.
WVU and Minnesota will face one another for the first time in history at Chase Field, but both Fleck and Brown are rather familiar with one another. In fact, the programs are directly linked by one man this season — WVU offensive analyst Kirk Ciarrocca, who recently accepted the offensive coordinator position with the Golden Gophers. He will not participate in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
While they haven’t yet faced each other on the same field, both WVU and Minnesota are rather familiar with the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, which has taken on several names over the years. The Mountaineers most recently made their second appearance in the event in 2016 (then the Cactus Bowl), while Minnesota will play in the bowl for the first time since its third trip in 2010.
Here are some of the biggest storylines headed into the Guaranteed Rate Bowl:
It’s Tony Time
Running back Tony Mathis Jr. showed off his ability as a featured ball-carrier in WVU’s season finale against Kansas — the redshirt sophomore got a team-high 22 carries against the Jayhawks, and turned those into 118 yards.
After Leddie Brown announced his decision to skip the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, WVU now turns to Mathis to motor the offense as the top guy in the backfield. Mathis has been waiting for this moment for years, however, and he says he is up for the task.
“It feels good,” Mathis said. “I’m just ready for it, been working for it.”
Through three seasons, Mathis has rushed the ball 81 times for 325 yards and a touchdown in 18 games.
Jarret Doege’s Tunnel Vision
WVU quarterback Jarret Doege could have a lot of things on his mind — his past, like his benching in the Liberty Bowl; or his future, whether or not he returns to Morgantown for another year.
Instead, he’s thinking about just one thing — beating Minnesota.
“I didn’t really want to make this whole thing about me,” Doege said, “I want to make it about going and winning the bowl game.”
Doege will look to continue his strong finish to the season, helping lead the Mountaineer offense to a pair of wins to close the season and earn a bowl trip. In that span against Texas and Kansas, he threw for 460 yards, six touchdowns and an interception.
How the Gophers Get It Done
Fleck’s squad is reminiscent of many teams from the Big Ten — a strong offensive line, a stout ground game and a tough defense. Actually, they are one of the best teams in the league in those areas.
Defensively, they finished the season as one of the best teams, notching a top-10 campaign in terms of pass, rush, scoring and total defense, and more. Minnesota is led by Boye Mafe, a redshirt senior defensive lineman, who notched nine tackles-for-loss and six sacks.
“This defense is one of the best, not in the Big Ten, in the country. So yes, this is a favorable matchup,” said KSTP’s Darren Wolfson, who covers the Gophers.
While they lack a 1,000-yard rusher this season, the Gophers’ battered running backs room boasts a trio of 500-yard rushers led by Ky Thomas. The freshman has 680 yards in eight games this season, while adding five touchdowns.
As a team, Minnesota has run for 25 touchdowns, while holding opponents to just 10 scores on the ground.
West Virginia vs. Minnesota game information
WVU and Minnesota kick off in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field in Phoenix Arizona at 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN. Before the game starts, Gold and Blue Nation will warm fans up with the Mountaineer GameDay Bowl Special, which goes live at 7 p.m. ET on West Virginia Nexstar stations and AT&T SportsNet.