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SALT LAKE CITY - In a rematch of the 2005 Emerald Bowl, the Utes take on a familiar opponent in Georgia Tech, a familiar style of play in the triple option, and also a familiar coach in Paul Johnson, who coached Navy until he took the Tech job before the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl against Utah.
Let's break down this matchup.
Utah's Offense vs. Georgia Tech's Defense
- 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
This is the red headed step child matchup of this game. The two units of each team that gets the least amount of publicity may be the most intriguing match up to watch. Utah's offense, after so much anticipation for the Norm Chow offense, really hit the skids when starting Quarterback Jordan Wynn suffered a season ending shoulder injury against Washington. Enter Jon Hays and the emergence of John White. It became apparent after Arizona State that the coaches could not keep the same offensive game plan for Jon Hays as they did for Jordan Wynn. So the game plan became don't turn over the ball and play field position. Out of that thinking emerged a second team all Pac-12 season for John White. As White went, so went the Utes. White ended up with 1,485 yards just knocking on the door to the all time single season mark for the Utes. Ranking near the bottom in all statistical categories for the Pac-12, the Utah offense is anything but a juggernaut.
Georgia Tech's defense, similar to Utah's offense, is rather pedestrian and in some cases bad (giving up 31 points to Duke). Tech's defense is ranked 70th nationally in rushing defense giving up 163 yards per game, which plays right into Utah's hands. Georgia Tech is also only ranked 65th in takeaways, which if any Utah fan can remember the 0-4 start to Pac-12 play know how important taking care of the ball is for the Utes. Overall they rank 46th in total defense. Also consider the league they play in, the ACC, which is not a power league according to ESPN.com. The ACC is ranked 6th according to ESPN, while the Pac-12 is ranked 3rd (not counting USC mind you) out of all FBS conferences. So it's not like Georgia Tech is facing the offensive gauntlet that exists in a conference like the Pac-12.
Advantage = UtahReason: John White IV, or Juan Blanco as Ute fans have come to affectionately know him, is the key for the Utes. When he hits 100 yards Utah is undefeated this year, when he doesn't they are winless. If White is going well he will take all the pressure off of Jon Hays to just manage the game. After watching this team this year I've learned one thing: never count out John White.
Utah's Defense vs Georgia Tech's Offense
Utah's defense is what it usually is under coach Kyle Whittingham - stout. This year may have proven out to be one of his best units yet. Ranked in the top 3 of the Pac-12 in every major defensive category. Not to mention 29th overall in the country, fourth in the country in takeaways, but most important of all going into this matchup, 7th in rush defense. Utah is allowing 2.92 yards per carry, with only six rushing touchdowns allowed, and less than 97 yards per game. Talking to Wes Durham on this weeks U Fan Cast, he stated the Tech coaches said that this may be the best front seven that Tech has seen all year. With the Pac-12 defensive lineman of the year Star Lotulelei, sophomore stud Brian Blechen, and leading tackler Chaz Walker this Ute defense is loaded from top to bottom.
Georgia Tech runs the offense most hated by opponents, the triple option. The same triple option that many Ute fans should remember from the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl when Utah played the Naval Academy. Tech is third in the country with 316 yards a game on the ground with almost six yards per carry and 44 touchdowns. Georgia Tech is also ranked first in the country in third down conversion at almost 55 percent. According to radio voice Wes Durham, one of the main players to look for is A-back Orwin Smith. Smith is the most versatile player on the team with 616 yards rushing, 306 receiving yards and not to forget 352 kick return yards. Don't forget the Quarterback Tevin Washington who ran for 890 yards while throwing for 1,500. There is a large percentage of yards and firepower contained in that offensive backfield for Georgia Tech.
Advantage = Utah
Reason: Depth and speed. This Utah front seven can keep throwing players at an opponent more so than a team is used to, and against a team that will run and run and run that is a big advantage. With Utah's experience playing option teams in the past Utah's speed should lend itself to beating the Jackets to their spots more often then not. Utah also being as tough as they are in the red zone, being ranked 16th nationally while only allowing five red zone rushing touchdowns all year, lends to the idea that even if Tech gets some yards, points aren't guaranteed. Also everyone knows that a great defense always beats a great offense, especially a one dimensional one.
Keys to a Ute Win
The key for the Utes, as it always is playing an option team, is what Coach Whitt calls the 1/11th defense. Every player on defense must worry about and execute their assignment for the defense to succeed. If one player has a lapse of judgment the Jackets will bust a big one on the Utes. Being disciplined on play action, as rare as it will be, will be key for the corners. Second they must relent field goals and not touchdowns because Georgia Tech will get some yards on the Utes. Offensively Jon Hays must keep the chains moving, especially early on when the sledding for White may be tough. There will be key third downs that Hays will have to convert to keep drives alive. Lastly Utah needs touchdowns and not field goals. Against Colorado, Utah had scoring chance after chance but couldn't punch it in and had to settle for field goal attempts. We saw how well that turned out.
Prediction: Utah 27 - Georgia Tech 16
MVP: Chaz Walker