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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 fourth.

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.

Game Notes

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


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