Best Bowl Outcomes In Utah Football History
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utes have had some big bowl games and big moments in those games, and hope to add to those moments in the 2018 Holiday Bowl where they’ll face Northwestern.
It’s hard to imagine bowl season without Utah nowadays as the last 30 years or so have been a golden era for Utah when it comes to going to and winning bowl games.
Some of the best bowl performances have come fairly recently for the Utes. Under head coach Kyle Whittingham, the Utes have a 11-1 record in bowl games, which includes the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. Whittingham served as co-head coach with Urban Meyer in that BCS-busting game.
Prior to the Ron McBride days at Utah, bowls game were a rarity. Up until McBride was hired in 1990, the Utes had only gone to three bowl games in the entire history of the program.
1994 Freedom Bowl: Utes Grab First Bowl Win Since 1964
Things changed under McBride as the Utes made their first bowl since 1964 with an appearance in the 1992 Copper Bowl. They lost that game to Washington State.
They also lost to USC in the Freedom Bowl the next year, but in 1994, Utah finally broke through and won its first bowl game in three decades in the 1994 Freedom Bowl against Arizona.
The Utes were enjoying their best season in program history with a 9-2 record and a No. 14 ranking. They had their hands full with No. 15 Arizona in a game that went down to the wire.
With less than four minutes remaining in the game and Utah trailing 13-9, Ute returner Cal Beck kickstarted the Utes’ possession with a monster return that brought the ball to the 5-yard line.
On fourth and goal, Utah quarterback Mike McCoy heaved a desperate pass into the end zone, finding Kevin Dyson for the go-head score.
The Utes would hold on to win the game 16-13 and make program history with their first 10-win season with a 10-3 final record.
2004 Fiesta Bowl: Utah Secures Perfect Season
Ten years later, the Utes managed to outdo the success of the ’94 squad.
After an 11-0 perfect regular season, the Utes broke through the BCS barrier and got to play Pittsburgh in one of the nation’s most elite bowl games, the Fiesta Bowl.
The Utes did as they had done all season and beat up on Pittsburgh in a 35-7 drubbing. Heisman trophy finalist and eventual No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith was sensational in his final game as a Ute, completing 29-of-37 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns. He was also the game’s leading rusher with 68 yards on 15 carries.
The game’s most exciting moment came at the end of the third quarter with the Utes up 28-7. Smith completed a short pass to the outside to wide receiver Steve Savoy, who then lateraled to a streaking Paris Warren, who went 19 yards for a touchdown.
It was the final score of a memorable 12-0 season for the Utah football program and sealed what was technically Whittingham’s first win as head coach.
2005 Emerald Bowl: Passing Attack Blows Away Yellow Jackets
In Whittingham’s first season as the head coach at Utah, the Utes secured a bid to the 2005 Emerald Bowl in San Francisco to face Georgia Tech.
Although the Yellow Jackets had a future NFL star receiver in Calvin Johnson on the roster, it was Utah’s Travis LaTendresse who dominated in Utah’s 38-10 victory.
The senior receiver went out in style in his final game for the Utes, earning game MVP honors with 16 catches for 214 yards and four touchdowns.
In contrast, Johnson, who would go to be known as “Megatron” in the NFL, caught just two passes for 19 yards. He was shut down by the defensive efforts of Utah safeties Steve Tate and Eric Weddle, a future NFL star himself.
The win gave the Utes a final record of 7-5.
2007 Poinsettia Bowl: Big 2nd Half Carries Utes To Comeback Win
After a 7-4 regular season, the Utes were given a bid to play Navy in the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego.
After a 43-yard run by running back Eric Kettani put the Midshipmen up 17-7 early in the third quarter, the Utes began to mount a major comeback behind the arm of junior quarterback Brian Johnson.
The junior quarterback completed all nine of his passes in the third quarter, including a 40-yard bomb to Derreck Richards as they Utes retook the lead in the period.
Navy would mount a comeback effort of their own, but an interception by Utah linebacker Joe Dale in the final minute of the game shut the door on the comeback and gave Utah its sixth straight bowl victory.
For his second half heroics, which included a touchdown run in addition to his TD pass, Johnson would be named the offensive MVP of the game. The Utes’ 35-32 win gave them a final record of 9-4.
However, Johnson’s best bowl game effort for Utah was still yet to come.
2008 Sugar Bowl: Utah Shocks Alabama
Following another perfect regular season, the Utes locked up another trip to a BCS bowl after the 2008 season when they got the opportunity to play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Alabama had been ranked No. 1 for most of the season, but missed out on an appearance in the national game due to a loss to Florida in the SEC championship game. Still, going into the matchup against the Utes, the Crimson Tide were a heavy favorite.
The Utes didn’t seem to care.
Johnson, in his final game as a senior, led the Utes to an early 21-0 first quarter lead on three straight touchdown drives.
Alabama would cut the lead to 28-17, but the Utah defense held firm as they held on for an improbable and surprising 31-17 win over a perennial national championship contender.
Although the Utes finished the season as the only unbeaten team in the country, they were not ruled national champions due to the constraints of the BCS system. They would finish the year ranked No. 2 in the country.
“What else do we have to prove?” Johnson said after the game. “Without question, we’re one of best, if not the best team in the country.”
Ten years later, the official NCAA records book would list the Utes as a 2008 national poll champion, thanks to a metrics in a poll created by Anderson/Hester, an NCAA major selector.
2009 Poinsettia Bowl: Sylvester, Wynn Lead Utes Past Cal
Just a year removed from the national spotlight and a win in the Sugar Bowl, the Utes returned to the Poinsettia Bowl to face future Pac-12 foe Cal in 2009.
The Golden Bears quickly took a 14-0 lead after a pick-six thrown by Utah’s true freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn in the first quarter. Wynn, however quickly shrugged it off and had the best game of his young career.
Wynn ended up throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns to overcome the pick-six and was named the game’s offensive MVP.
The game’s defensive MVP honors went to senior Stevenson Sylvester, who iced the game in the fourth quarter with an interception return for a touchdown.
Utah won 37-27 to finish the year 10-3.
2011 Sun Bowl: Overtime Win In Georgia Tech Rematch
A few years after facing Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl, the Utes met the Yellow Jackets again in the 2011 Sun Bowl.
After allowing 17 straight points by Georgia Tech in the third quarter and with the Yellow Jackets holding a 24-10 lead going into the fourth quarter, the Utes rode on the backs of running back John White and quarterback John Hays to a thrilling overtime victory.
Hays led Utah to 14 points in the fourth quarter. His 28-yard pass to wide receiver DeVonte Christopher with a minute and half remaining tied the game up and allowed it to go into overtime.
Georgia Tech was held to just a field goal on their first possession in overtime, opening the door for Utah to win the game on a touchdown.
White’s 8-yard rush did just that as the Utes started a new streak of bowl game victories. They had lost the year before to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The final score of the game was 30-27 which vaulted Utah to a final 8-5 record.
2015 Las Vegas Bowl: Utah Defense Makes Quick Work Of BYU
It was thought that the long-held rivalry between Utah and BYU would not be played in 2015. That changed when the two teams met in that year’s Las Vegas Bowl.
To say the game did not start well for the Cougars would be an understatement.
Utah’s Kylie Fitts forced a fumble by BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum on the third play of the game to put Utah in great field position to go up 7-0.
On BYU’s next possession, Mangum was picked off on the first play of the drive by Utah’s Tevin Carter, who ran it in for 28-yard TD to put the Utes up 14-0.
Carter again picked off Mangum on the next Cougars possession and nearly returned it to the house to set up another first quarter score by Utah. The Utes led 21-0 at that point.
Mangum threw another interception, this time to Dominque Hatfield, who returned it back to the end zone for a 46-yard Utah touchdown. Just halfway through the first quarter, the Utes led 28-0.
Another BYU turnover, this time by running back Squally Canada, was the predecessor to another Utah score and in what seemed like no time at all, the Utes led 35-0 in the first quarter.
Utah would not score again in the game and the Cougars would reel off 28 straight, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the early devastation that the Utes had caused en route to the 35-28 win and a final record of 10-3.
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