Fiesta fever

The U football team had all the pressure on it before the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. It was the first team in a non-BCS conference to earn a BCS bowl bid and were in the national spotlight.

Even with all the excitement surrounding the game, the actual contest turned out just as all the other Ute games have this year-with the Utes winning handily.

Pitt was outmatched, out-coached and outplayed on both sides of the ball, as the Utes won the Fiesta Bowl, 35-7.

“You can’t get much higher when you’re 12-0, Fiesta Bowl champions and there’s 58,000 Ute fans going crazy,” Ute quarterback Alex Smith said.

Smith was co-offensive player of the game along with wide receiver Paris Warren.

The Heisman Trophy finalist finished the game completing 29 of 37 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns.

Warren finished the game with a Fiesta Bowl record 15 receptions for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

Although usually a team better known for its offense, the Ute defense controlled most of the game and hurried Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko for much of the time. The defense sacked Palko nine times in the game, including three by linebacker Tommy Hackenbruck.

Ute lineman Steve Fifita had one sack, but penetrated the Panther offensive line on many plays and was named defensive player of the game.

The game was back and forth through the first half, with the Utes only scoring twice, but the defense shut down the Panthers.

The Ute offense struck midway through the first quarter with a swift eight-play drive capped by a tough 4-yard touchdown run by Quinton Ganther.

Pitt controlled the ball for much of the second quarter and the Utes only had one substantial drive in the quarter, but they capitalized on that possession.

Smith had six completions on a 10-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a Smith touchdown pass to John Madsen.

The Utes went for the jugular in the third quarter and scored touchdowns on all three of their offensive possessions in the quarter.

Smith moved the Utes quickly up the field on their first possession of the half and hit running back Marty Johnson on the shovel pass for the score to cap off the 80-yard drive.

After another Ute score, the Panthers showed signs of life with a beautiful pass from Palko to wideout Greg Lee in the end zone for the score.

The Panthers’ hopes for a comeback victory ended when Smith hit Savoy on a screen pass, who then pitched the ball to Warren on a hook and ladder. Warren took the ball to the end zone, which stunned the Pitt sidelines, fans and everyone in between.

It was the final scoring drive of the game and the Utes went on to complete their perfect season in front of a huge Ute crowd.

“This team achieved so many things,” Smith said.

With the dominating win, the Utes also finished the season 10-2 against the spread and finished No. 4 in the AP poll and No. 5 in the coaches’ poll.

The players poured Gatorade over co-head coaches Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham after the game and the torch was passed to Whittingham, who is now the head coach of the team. The new coach has many holes to fill.

Not only have the Utes lost Meyer to Florida, but Smith declared for the NFL Draft and the future is uncertain for wide receiver Steve Savoy.

Warren finished his college career along with second-team All-American Morgan Scalley.

Whittingham rounded out his coaching staff with hirings of Jay Boulware and Dave Schramm. The coaches’ actual positions on the teams have not yet been determined, since they both have the ability to coach various positions on the team.

“Jay gives us more experience with Pac-10 coaching, having been at Arizona and Stanford,” Whittingham said. Dave is a proven football coach who coached at San Diego State for 12 years. He is a huge value to us because of his background as a recruiting coordinator and he also has great experience coaching the offense.”

The coordinator positions are set with Gary Anderson at the defensive coordinator position and Andy Ludwig on the offense.

With the departure of Smith, freshman quarterback Johnson is now the projected starting quarterback heading into the spring.

Even with all the holes and new faces, the Fiesta Bowl victory and added national prestige will be key in Whittingham’s efforts in rebuilding the team.

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