Utah kicker could be difference in Dallas
DALLAS — If the Heart of Dallas Bowl comes down to a kick for Utah against West Virginia, the Utes will turn to someone who entered this season with only one year of high school football, didn't know what the Lou Groza Award was, yet walked off with it a few weeks ago.
Matt Gay has difficulty describing what has transpired over the past five months.
"It's been crazy," he said. "I'm trying to figure out the emotion of things."
Gay's Utes (6-6) need a victory today to finish with a winning record for the fourth consecutive season.
West Virginia (7-5) already has done that but wants to end a two-game losing streak that began when quarterback Will Grier — eighth in the FBS in passing yards per game — was lost with a broken middle finger on his passing hand during the first quarter against Texas.
Gay walked on last summer after playing soccer for Utah Valley and narrowly lost the starting job to freshman Chayden Johnston. After Johnston's first attempt went wide from 45 yards in Utah's opener, Gay was told, "You have the next one."
And the job was his. Gay leads the FBS with 27 field goals, missing only four attempts. He has hit eight of at least 50 yards, converting twice from 56.
Gay was awarded a scholarship in October , days after he was reclassified athletically as a junior through a ruling related to taking a Mormon mission while at Utah Valley.
"I'd like to say I coached him up," Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said. He conceded that Gay arrived with excellent mechanics while working with a private coach and Utah's staff "gave him a few tips here and there."
"His approach on the ball is fast," Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said. "I don't know what his range is. It's longer than 56."
Three Mountaineers receivers, including second-team All-America David Sills V, rank in the top 30 in receiving yardage. Sophomore Chris Chugunov took over for Grier and went 24 of 46 for 326 yards.
"It's not like he doesn't know the offense," Holgorsen said.
Things to consider in the second meeting between the schools, the first a 32-6 Utah victory 53 years ago:
MISSING MOUNTAIN MEN: Besides Grier, the Mountaineers will also be missing leading rusher Justin Crawford as the senior prepares for the NFL draft. Crawford had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with 11 total touchdowns.
BACK IN PLAY: Utah's sophomore quarterback, Tyler Huntley, missed the regular-season finale with his second shoulder injury of the season but is 100 percent, Whittingham said.
INDOOR HISTORY: The other meeting between the schools was the first major college bowl game played indoors, according to the Utah sports information department. It was the Liberty Bowl at the convention center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
POOL SHARKS: Holgorsen and Doug Elisaia, Utah's strength coach, were teammates at Iowa Wesleyan in the early 1990s. "I used to beat him at pool," Holgorsen said.