Travissimo! LaTendresse runs wild against Tech defense

It was dj vu all over again…and again, and again, and again.

It was practically the same play, repeated over and over again against a seemingly helpless Georgia Tech defense-Travis LaTendresse running a post over the middle and waltzing into the end zone.

The Yellow Jacket secondary saw the play time and again during the Emerald Bowl, but for whatever reason, could never do anything to stop it.

The result was the defining performance in the career of LaTendresse, the sixth-year senior who set career highs with 16 catches, 214 yards and four touchdowns. He also tied an NCAA record for most TD catches in a single bowl game.

“Travis had a huge game to end his senior year,” junior safety Eric Weddle said. “Today he showed that all of the hard work he puts in paid off. People should pay attention to him at the next level.”

It was an especially memorable performance for LaTendresse, one of the team’s most respected veterans who has helped see it through two coaching changes over the last three-and-a-half years.

Not only was it his last game as a Ute, but he also got to play in front of a crowd numbering more than 100 of his friends and family members. LaTendresse is a Northern California native, having grown up in El Dorado Hills, about two hours outside of San Francisco.

Like fellow senior Quinton Ganther-who also had a strong showing, finishing with 120 yards on the ground-and several other members of the U football team, LaTendresse finally got the opportunity to play in front of a “home crowd.”

“(It was) very special to play in front of my friends and family in my last game,” LaTendresse said.

The senior’s historic performance was helped in no small part by second-time starter Brett Ratliff, who completed 30 of 41 passes for 381 yards and, of course, those four touchdown passes. From the beginning of the game, Ratliff had a connection with his top wideout, as the two exploited the middle of the Georgia Tech pass defense all day long.

On the first drive of the game, Ratliff found LaTendresse for a 15-yard gain to put the Utes into Yellow Jacket territory, and just three plays later, found him again on a 14-yard post for the first touchdown of the afternoon, just 2:34 into the first quarter.

It was more of the same later in the first half.

On consecutive drives, LaTendresse caught touchdowns of 23 and 25 yards, and just like that it was Travis LaTendresse 20, Georgia Tech 0. The Jackets never recovered.

“I thought we would get to the passer a little bit better and tackle (LaTendresse) a little bit better,” Tech coach Chan Gailey said. “They did a nice job of picking up our stuff, and he did a great job of throwing the football.”

But it wasn’t as if the Utes put 38 points and nearly 400 passing yards on the board with bombs, Hail Marys and flukes. They were methodical in their approach, picking the Jackets apart with a mid-range passing attack, much of it coming over the middle, right in the soft spot of a defensive unit that came into the game ranked No. 10 in the nation in total defense.

The longest pass play of the entire game was just 29 yards, and the net result for the Utes was one of their most potent offensive performances of the year.

“The offensive coordinator told me I’d have some opportunities today,” LaTendresse said. “All the credit goes to the line and (Ratliff). We were all able to get on the same page.”

No one could have written a better finish for LaTendresse’s Ute career, and it was an appropriate one considering the season he’s been through.

In addition to leading the team through a difficult middle of the season, in which Utah dropped three games in a row at one point, he also missed about one-third of the season due to a severe high ankle sprain that hobbled him even through the season-ending victory over BYU.

“Had he not had a bad ankle this year, he probably would have caught 90 balls,” Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said.

Once he was fully healthy that afternoon in San Fran, LaTendresse showed up the vaunted Georgia Tech secondary, showing the entire country in the process.

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