Utes' defense stands tall
New Orleans » Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised at the result, especially considering how dominant Utah's defense has been all season long.
But just when the masses, and the nation, thought the Utes would be overwhelmed by Alabama's potent offense, and its grinding rushing attack, Utah's defense reminded everyone yet again why it's been one of the best in the country over the course of the past five months.
In the Utes 31-17 Sugar Bowl win over the Crimson Tide, Utah stopped Alabama's ground game cold before a national audience. The front four dominated the line of scrimmage, swarming John Parker Wilson and sacking him five times. Julio Jones never became the factor everyone feared and Glen Coffee was bottled up.
"We knew that we could be successful against them," Utes defensive end Paul Kruger said. "We're a great front four. We knew they were a big offensive line with a lot of talent. But we're scrappy suckers and we weren't going to back down to anyone."
Before 71,872 at the Superdome, Utah's defense told the country what the Mountain West Conference has known all year. The Utes allowed 31 rushing yards, rendering Coffee basically useless. Wilson threw for a mere 177 yards, and was picked off twice. Jones caught 7 balls for 77 yards, but didn't score a touchdown. The Crimson Tide offense, as a result, never got into a rhythm.
Most importantly, the Alabama offense didn't score a touchdown that didn't come off a turnover. And that was a huge factor in what was one of the biggest wins in the history of the program.
"We just knew that we had to come out and play our normal game," said safety Robert Johnson, who picked off the two Wilson passes. "A lot of people were saying that Alabama would beat Utah, but the score says different. We just did the same thing all year long and we wound up 13-0."
The Utes front seven was a big key, but defensive coordinator Gary Andersen's willingness to isolate his cornerbacks, Sean Smith and Brice McCain, on Alabama's receivers was a huge factor as well.
Their ability to cover man to man without any help allowed Andersen to send tons of blitzes at the Crimson Tide. And when he did, his players got into the backfield and caused havoc.
Stevenson Sylvester got loose for three sacks. Kepa Gaison had another two sacks. Besides that, Wilson was never confident in the pocket, often forced to bail out and scramble. And because Alabama couldn't run the ball, there was little help for Wilson and little pressure relief.
"We were just better than them this season," Smith said. "We had better athletes. We were better prepared than them and we executed better than them. They had no idea what it was like to play against us."
31 - number of rushing yards
208 - total yards
2 - number of interceptions thrown by John Parker Wilson
0 - number of touchdown passes thrown by Parker Wilson
5 - number of times Parker Wilson was sacked