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January 3, 2009The 75th annual Sugar Bowl went just about as expected as the Crimson and White-clad team jumped out to a big first quarter lead and rode their stifling, top ranked defense to a convincing victory over an overmatched opponent. However, it was the crimson of sixth-ranked Utah that shocked the college football world by soundly defeating the heavily favored, fourth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide 31-17 Friday night.
Utah beat Alabama at their own game, jumping out to a big lead in the first quarter and allowing their defense to take over the ball game. Alabama never lead as Utah came out and delivered knock-out punches early and often. After forcing a quick punt by the Tide, Utah's offense came out and spread the field with a quick hitting, no-huddle offense, throwing the ball without conscience en route to 21 points in the first 15 minutes of the ball game. Alabama had allowed just 27 points in the first quarter all season long.
Utah looked like the team from the vaunted SEC; the Utes executed their game plan to perfection, putting their athletes in space on offense and used their speed to beat the Tide defense in the passing game while dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Brian Johnson had plenty of time to throw for his 336 yards and 3 touchdowns while the defense held Alabama - a team that ran for 196 yards per game on the season - to 31 yards rushing on 33 carries. Alabama was behind the chains on seemingly every possession, forced to throw the ball to catch up. Utah's speed on defense was too much for Alabama's depleted front line to handle as the Utes out-flanked the Tide in the rushing game and harassed quarterback John Parker Wilson all night wracking up eight sacks while hitting him virtually every time he dropped back to throw. The pressure of Utah's front helped put the game away early as the pass rush forced Wilson to make a poor throw that was picked off to set up Utah's second score of the ball game.
The victory over Alabama cemented 2008 as the best season in Utah history, finishing with a record 13 wins while defeating four teams ranked in the top-25 when they played and Alabama spent five weeks at the top spot in the polls. The sixth-ranked Utes have a chance to finish the season with their highest final rankings in history as the 2004 Utes finished the season ranked fourth and fifth in the polls.
Utah: Brian Johnson, Kenape Eliapo. Johnson orchestrated maybe the best performance by a Utah quarterback, shredding the 21st ranked passing defense for 336 yards and 3 touchdowns, both season-highs for the Tide defense. Eliapo returned from injury in rare form as the 303 pound defensive tackle was a major force along Utah's line, recording a tackle for loss and a sack while creating plays for his teammates by clogging the middle for Utah's "undersized" defensive line.
Alabama: Javier Arenas, Glen Coffee. Arenas proved his game-breaking ability as a return man, breaking several tackles on a 73 yard punt return for touchdown that kept the game closer than the final stats would have indicated. Coffee was the Alabama offense, contributing 80 of Alabama's 208 yards and the Tide's only offensive score.