NCAA Game Summary - Utah vs. Alabama|
(Friday, January 2nd)
Final Score: (7) Utah 31, (4) Alabama 17
New Orleans, LA (Sports Network) - Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards and three
scores, as seventh-ranked Utah polished off an undefeated season with a 31-17
win over No. 4 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Johnson completed 27-of-41 passes for the Utes (13-0), who notched their
eighth consecutive bowl win. In that streak is another BCS bowl victory, a
35-7 pounding of Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.
Freddie Brown recorded 12 catches for 125 yards for Utah, which stormed
Alabama with a 21-point first quarter and held on for the win to complete its
third undefeated season -- one in which the Utes won the Mountain West
Conference title and rose to sixth in the BCS standings.
Bradon Godfrey, David Reed and Brent Casteel caught a touchdown each for Utah,
which not only was sharp offensively, but used a suffocating defense to beat
the Crimson Tide. The Utes held Alabama to 208 total yards, and recorded eight
sacks of Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson thanks to terrific pressure from
the defensive line.
While Utah completed its season in undefeated fashion, Alabama (12-2) ended
its 2008 campaign with two consecutive losses. The Crimson Tide were in
position to play for the national championship at 12-0 before losing, 31-20,
to Florida in the SEC Championship game on December 6.
"We didn't finish the season like we wanted, and I'm sorry for that for them.
I think they deserved better," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said of his
players. "We wanted better for them. And we failed them in not being able to
help them get where they needed to get so they could have a chance to be
successful in this game."
Wilson threw for 177 yards and one TD on 18-of-30 passing but was intercepted
twice in the loss for Alabama, which played without star offensive lineman
and Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith, who was suspended for the contest.
Glen Coffee ran 13 times for 36 yards, and caught four passes for 40 yards and
a score in the loss.
Utah forced an Alabama punt on the initial drive of the game, and started a
series on its own 32 despite a fumble on the punt catch by Casteel. Johnson
showed the effectiveness of Utah's offense immediately, as the Utes went
downfield in five plays -- all passes, all of which were complete, and all of
which went to a different receiver.
Johnson found Jereme Brooks for 19 yards, Darrell Mack for 14, then Godfrey
for 22 to get to the Alabama 13. Johnson connected with Brown for six yards
before he dumped a pass off to the left to Casteel, who ran to the goal line
and dove into the corner of the end zone for a 7-0 Utah lead just short of
four minutes into the game.
On the second play of the ensuing Crimson Tide drive, Wilson was picked off by
Robert Johnson, setting Utah up at the Alabama 32. The Tide defense held for
two plays, putting Utah in a 3rd-and-10 spot, but Johnson found Reed for a 30-
yard gain. Matt Asiata then took a direct snap and dove two yards into the end
zone for a 14-0 Utes lead, with 8:37 still left in the opening frame.
Alabama was again forced to punt, and Utah took over with just under six
minutes to go at its own 35. Johnson led the Utes downfield in seven plays and
1:57 of game clock, and capped the drive with an 18-yard TD strike to Godfrey
for a 21-0 Utah lead.
The Utes' dominating first quarter ended with a sack of Wilson on third down
in Utah territory. However, Alabama kicker Leigh Tiffin opened the second with
a 52-yard field goal to put the Tide on the board.
Alabama held Utah to a punt, and drove back into Utes territory. But Tiffin's
47-yard try was wide left, leaving Utah with a 21-3 lead. The Utes were again
forced to punt, but the Tide offense didn't even get an opportunity to put
points on the board -- kick returner Javier Arenas did it by himself.
Arenas took the kick at his own 27, and ran into a wall of bodies, but somehow
broke through, shed one final would-be tackler and sprinted into the end zone.
The 73-yard run, the longest punt return for a TD in Sugar Bowl history,
brought Alabama within 21-10 with 5 1/2 minutes left until halftime.
Another Utah punt gave Alabama a chance to get within one score, but the Tide
drive stalled near midfield as time ran out on the first half.
However, Alabama picked up where it left off in the third quarter, forcing a
Johnson fumble on the first Utah play of the stanza. The Tide took over at the
Utes' 30, started driving and set up a 1st-and-goal after a 12-yard pass from
Wilson to Nick Walker. Coffee ran for three yards before Wilson connected
with him for a four-yard TD that got 'Bama within 21-17.
"It was tough starting off 21-0, but we still had a lot of time left to go,"
Wilson said. "Nobody panicked. And we were just going to stay with our stuff
and stay with our game plan because at that time, I mean, it was the first
quarter and that's not any time to panic. We didn't change anything up."
Utah was quick with an answer, going seven plays and 71 yards -- in only 1:37
-- on its next series for a TD.
Johnson found Brown for 33 yards on the first play to immediately get onto
Alabama's side of the field. He completed three more passes, the last one a
28-yarder to Reed into the end zone, boosting Utah's lead to 28-17.
Tiffin missed another field goal -- a 49-yarder that went wide left -- later
in the third, and the game remained an 11-point affair heading into the
The teams traded punts for the first few possession of the final stanza, and
Alabama had the ball with under six minutes to go. The Tide were faced with a
2nd-and-4 when Utah defensive back Sean Smith came flying in almost unseen by
Wilson on the left side and sacked the quarterback, jarring the ball loose.
The play seriously damaged Alabama's chances of getting back in the game, as
the Utes recovered at the Tide 42 with 5:13 on the clock. Utah ran time off
the clock while getting into field goal range, and Louie Sakoda's 28-yarder
made it a two-touchdown game with 2:49 left.
Alabama started its next drive at midfield, and after Wilson was sacked for an
eight-yard loss, the Crimson Tide faced a 3rd-and-18. Wilson's next throw, a
deep heave, was picked off again by Robert Johnson, and with less than two
minutes remaining, Utah held on for the win.
Alabama's Julio Jones caught seven passes for 77 yards...Utah head coach Kyle
Whittingham guided the Utes to victory after receiving a five-year contract
extension Monday...Utah was the second team to enter the postseason with an
undefeated record this season, and the only to complete the perfect season.
Boise State was 12-0 before dropping a 17-16 decision to TCU in the Poinsettia
Bowl on December 23.
01/03 01:57:33 ET