It hasn’t been the smoothest of years; however, the WVU Mountaineers are back in a postseason bowl game.
Following their sixth win of the campaign over Kansas to end the regular season, they accepted an invitation to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
Here, WVU football will face the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who finished the year at 8-4 overall within the Big Ten Conference. The two meet up on Dec. 28 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona.
Things weren’t looking too great for WVU during several parts of the season. It once sat with a record of 2-4 and then 4-6 before finishing strong.
After taking down Texas by eight at home the week prior, the Mountaineers defeated Kansas on the road 34-28.
Now head coach Neal Brown has his team back in a bowl game for the second consecutive year.
Although the contest isn’t for a few more weeks, West Virginia online sportsbooks have odds up already. They show the Mountaineers as slight underdogs currently, receiving about +4 in the point spread.
WVU Football Qualifies For Bowl Season
The victory that secured WVU’s crucial sixth W didn’t come easy on the road in Lawrence. Despite having only one conference win throughout the year, KU fought until the final whistle, just as it has for about the last month.
The Jayhawks are certainly at the bottom of the Big 12 standings for a reason, but they’ve performed much better down the stretch. They beat Texas for just their second win overall, then narrowly lost to TCU on the road by only three.
Kansas had the same energy against WVU, making this a hard-fought battle.
The Mountaineers led 21-13 going into the half, but a costly mistake got Kansas right back in it. Linebacker Gavin Potter intercepted Jarret Doege for one of his only miscues of the day.
Potter returned the pick for a touchdown, and a two-point conversion knotted the score up at 21.
WVU recovered on the very next possession, going 75 yards in nine plays. Running back Leddie Brown took a third-down handoff 44 yards to the end zone to reclaim the advantage.
A couple of field goals after that and a few interceptions on defense sealed the deal.
KU did score one more time with around two minutes left but couldn’t get the ball back with the onside kick.
As noted, Doege had an efficient day, completing over 76% of his attempts, including three touchdowns.
It was the Mountaineers’ running game that did the heavy lifting, though. They relied on both Brown and Tony Mathis Jr. often.
Brown turned 19 carries into 156 yards, while Mathis Jr. totaled 118 on 22 rushes. Each had a carry for more than 40 yards.
Senior Sean Ryan led the receivers with five grabs for 87 yards. Winston Wright Jr. snagged two of the passing scores, with Sam James recording the other.
Josh Chandler-Semedo was a force defensively again. He led his side in solo tackles and came away with two clutch interceptions in the second half.
Guaranteed Rate Bowl Preview
The win put WVU in a position to end a second straight season with a bowl. Last year was a little weird because of the impact COVID-19 had on the schedule.
Regardless, the Mountaineers’ 5-4 regular-season mark was good enough for them to make the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, where they beat Army by three.
They’ll look to make it two years in a row with some hardware from a bowl when they face Minnesota at the end of the month.
The Golden Gophers had a resurgent year after going 3-4 in 2020. They bounced back from an opening-week loss to Ohio State and went 8-3 the rest of the way.
Minnesota lost two straight to start the month of November but figured things out to finish the season. It toppled Indiana by 21, then beat No. 14 Wisconsin by 10 to conclude the year.
While Minnesota isn’t ranked in the AP poll, it did receive 38 votes to make the top 25. This ranks the Gophers 29th in the country.
Senior quarterback Tanner Morgan leads his squad under center, but Minnesota tends to lean more with the run.
It finished the season with three running backs seeing at least 100 carries. After sophomore Trey Potts got injured, Minnesota’s rushing attack didn’t slow down.
Freshmen Ky Thomas and Mar’Keise Irving filled in quite well, combining for 1,250 rushing yards and nine scores. Both averaged at least 4.7 yards per rush.
On the outside, senior receiver Chris Autman-Bell sees the most targets. He caught 35 passes for almost 500 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games.
Defensively, the Gophers feature two linebackers who know how to find the ball. Jack Gibbens and Mariano Sori-Marin each produced over 80 tackles total.
They also have a couple of linemen who can disrupt the passer. Boye Mafe and Thomas Rush both posted a decent amount of sacks, combining for 11.5 this season.
Since this matchup is still a few weeks away, we’ll provide another preview closer to the game with more betting markets available.