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Monson: No more doubting for this team after a very big win
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

New Orleans

Questions. The Utes had heard enough of them, direct and indirect, sincere and insincere, most casting doubt, or at least suspicion, on their legitimacy as a top football program, in the run-up to the Sugar Bowl.

Answers.

The Utes gave them in abundance Friday night, thumping Alabama, 31-17.

One by one, those answers were rolled out under and into the brightest lights Utah football had ever seen. And, now, the Utes were seen, too, for what they are and what they aren't.

No. They are not a fraud, not even at the highest reaches of college football.

Yes. They are one of the best teams around, maybe the best.

No. The Utes are not, and never were, the Hawaii Warriors of last year's Sugar Bowl.

Yes. They play at all y'all's level of Big Boy football.

Yes. They felt disrespected by comments made by Nick Saban about not being truly worthy, regardless of their unbeaten status. "It made me angry," said Brian Johnson.

Yes. They could move the ball on Alabama's defense, utilizing their spread offense just the way they had against UNLV and Colorado State. Utah dominated Alabama from the start, taking a 21-zip lead in the first quarter on near-flawless play by Johnson and the rest of the Ute offense, and on strong D. And it held on from there.

Yes. BCS league snobs freaked out, as the Utes made their predictions -- and everybody else's -- of doom and gloom for the Mountain West champs look silly.

No. Utah didn't get road-graded by the Tide's power run game, allowing just 31 yards on the ground. And that was a giant factor because it was the biggest question of them all coming in. "It was huge," defensive coordinator Gary Andersen said. Too many thought Alabama's mammoth offensive line and backs Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram would have their way with the Utes, no matter how many defenders they stacked in the box.

On an important Alabama possession late in the third quarter, the Utes up, 28-17, and the Tide rolling, Utah's defense stoned Ingram on third-and-short, stopping the drive and, when a 'Bama field goal was missed, the scoring threat.

Yes. Ute corner Sean Smith could hang with man-child receiver Julio Jones, who caught seven passes for 77 yards and no scores, in their classic Smith-and-Jones pairing.

Yes. Johnson is a big-time player, regardless of the quality of opponent he faces. The Utes looked to and depended on him in every significant win this season, and the less-significant wins, too.

He shredded the Tide defense Friday night, hitting on 27 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns, fighting through injury en route. "I separated my shoulder in the third quarter," Johnson said. "Guts, man, guts." Systematically, Tide coach Nick Saban said, "this is the best quarterback we've played against all year."

Yes. Utah, after this win, under those brightest of lights, will deserve its lofty ranking, whatever it is. And everybody who doubted the Utes, present company included, now understands the true parameters of its terrific execution, its clutch play, and its enormous talent.

"We're the best team in the country," Johnson said.

Kyle Whittingham agreed, saying he would vote the Utes No. 1.

No. Nobody should doubt the Utes, not anymore.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Monson and Graham Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at gmonson@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">gmonson@sltrib.com.

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