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As the Utes go to El Paso to prepare for the Hyundai Sun Bowl, we look at the key questions they face as they take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
What did we learn about the Utes in their last game against Colorado?
- The Utes are definitely not in the Mountain West anymore. You can’t take a week off in the Pac-12 and that’s exactly what the Utes did. As Ted Miller of ESPN put it, Utah’s flop against Colorado isn’t uncommon in the Pac-12.
- The line between victory and defeat for Utah is so thin. With the injury-inhibited offense, Utah have to execute in three key areas of the game, regardless of who they are playing: run offense, run defense and turnovers. Against Colorado, they didn’t and they lost. What lingering questions do we still have about the Utes?
- Which Coleman Petersen is Coleman Petersen? A week after winning a game for the Utes at Washington State, Petersen couldn’t kick the broad side of a barn. The two long field-goal misses are acceptable, but you can’t miss the 26-yarder that would have tied the game late in the fourth quarter.
- Can the Utes defend tall receivers? It has been the defense’s Achilles' heel all year long as they’ve faced one huge receiver after another. They got burned by a couple more in the Colorado game, and they will face another one in the bowl game. What can we expect from Georgia Tech? - Run, run, run. The Yellow Jackets run the triple option offense, and they are third in the nation in run offense. They don’t care that the Utes are seventh in the nation in stopping the run. They’ll stick with their strength and see if it can beat Utah’s.
- Loading the box. Georgia Tech has one of the worst run defenses in the country, giving up an average of 162.9 yards per game on the ground. They will make Jon Hays beat them through the air by putting more defenders up front than the Utes have blockers.
- A couple of deep shots. The aforementioned tall receiver for the Yellow Jackets is Stephen Hill. At 6 feet, 5 inches tall, Georgia Tech likes to take a few deep shots in his direction every game. He averages 30.2 yards per catch with 26 receptions on the year. What can we expect from Utah against Georgia Tech?
- An attempt to establish the run. Georgia Tech’s pass defense is relatively strong, but the Yellow Jackets run defense is soft. That’s a good matchup for the Utes. Georgia Tech has struggled with power run games like Utah’s.
- An above-average job stopping the run. The Ute coaching staff has experience against the triple option, and they usually do a pretty good job against it. Don’t expect Utah to completely stop the Yellow Jacket run game, but they should contain it pretty well. I would be shocked if the Yellow Jackets hit their season average of 317 yards on the ground. If the Utes can hold Georgia Tech to the 200-250 range or less, they should be able to win the game.
- Trickeration. With offensive coordinator Norm Chow leaving for Hawaii, expect him to leave his playbook out on the field, so to speak. Any trick plays Chow has been holding back thus far we should see, and you know he’s got to have some good ones up his sleeve. Miscellaneous:
- Utah (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) vs. Georgia Tech (8-4, 5-3 ACC)
- Date: Saturday, Dec. 31
- Time: Noon MT
- Site: Sun Bowl Stadium (50,426/Hellas Matrix FieldTurf) El Paso, Texas
- TV: CBS
- Radio: ESPN700, Sports USA Radio Network, Sirius/XM 91
- Series Record: Utah leads 1-0
- Last Meeting: 2005 Emerald Bowl (Utah 38-10)
- Kickoff Weather: Sunny, temps in the lower 60s
- Utah played Georgia Tech in the 2005 Emerald Bowl, beating the Yellow Jackets in San Francisco, 38-10.
- The 2005 Emerald Bowl was the last and only time the Yellow Jackets have ever played the Utes.
- Kyle Whittingham, one of the best bowl coaches in college football, is 6-1 in bowl games as a head coach.
- Georgia Tech has been bowling 15 consecutive seasons, the longest streak in the nation. The Yellow Jackets, however, have lost six bowl games in a row.
- Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson has lost all three bowl games he’s coached the Yellow Jackets in.
- Johnson was the head coach at Navy before being hired by Georgia Tech just before Navy played Utah in the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl. Utah won that game, 35-32.
- In Whittingham’s 14 years at Utah as either the defensive coordinator or the head coach, the Utes are 10-4 against teams who run the triple option. In those 14 years, the Utes have given up an average of 26.3 points per game played against the triple option. As a head coach, Whittingham is 6-1 against teams who run the triple option, and the Utes give up an average of 23.3 points in those games.
- Kalani Sitake has only coached the Ute defense against two triple-option teams. The Utes won both of those games (23-16 and 28-23).
- Georgia Tech is making its 40th bowl appearance (22-17) while Utah is making its 17th bowl appearance (12-4). Conclusion: Of all the possible bowl matchups for the Utes, this one is one of the best. Georgia Tech doesn’t defend the run well, Utah runs it well. Georgia Tech runs the triple option, the Utes traditionally defend that offense pretty well. About 90 percent of Georgia Tech’s offensive output comes on the ground, Utah has one of the best run defenses in the country.
That said, Utah still has to do everything right to win this game against a quality team who spent a good portion of the season ranked in the top 15. Utah will need to run the ball well, stop the run (relatively) and not turn the ball over. The last part of that equation might be the hardest part after taking the last month off. Look for a close game that ends in the 20s, maybe a 28-24 or 27-21 type of score.
Trevor Amicone is the sports director at 88.1 Weber FM "Ogden's Radio Station" and host of the sports talk radio show, "Fully Loaded Sports with Trevor Amicone." Follow his very entertaining Twitter feed at @TrevorAmicone.