How sweet it is

By Chris Kamrani, Asst. Sports Editor

NEW ORLEANS8212;No one gave them a shot, and they didn’t want it any other way.
Amidst the glitz and glamour of the historic Sugar Bowl and playing a storied Alabama program, the largely written-off Utes stormed out of the gates and never looked back en route to a 31-17 win.

Utah shocked the college football world again, and are now the only undefeated team and have a nation long 14-game winning streak and a similar 8-game bowl win streak to boot.

“We took this challenge personally because of all the hype (Alabama) had before this game,” said a proud Brent Casteel. “The Tennessee coach (former head coach Philip Fulmer) said they’re physical and too fast for us. We just laughed at that. We gave them the pregame hype, it was their turn at the beginning of the game, this is what we wanted, the postgame hype. And we got it done.”

Thanks to a memorable performance by the Utah defense and a flawless first quarter, the Utes left the Big Easy as champions of the Sugar Bowl with Brian Johnson hoisting the game’s most outstanding player award.

“It’s been a miracle-type season,” said defensive end Paul Kruger, who spearheaded a magnificent team performance. “Just credit to everybody.”

Utah jumped out to a truly unexpected 21-0 lead after the defense held Alabama offense to first-drive punt. Johnson, who had a season-high 336 yards passing and three touchdowns, was playing his last game in a Ute uniform and lived up to his “big game” quarterback status.

Johnson orchestrated Utah’s two-minute offense to start the game, going 5-for-5 on the opening drive and distributing the ball to five different receivers that ended with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Casteel.

Casteel and Johnson were two of the fifth-year seniors who took Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s comments personally after Saban said his team was the only team to go undefeated in a “real” conference.

“Always, always be ready to play any opponent, be ready,” Casteel said. “This is why the game is played. Don’t be mad because you’re playing an opponent that you think is lesser than you. You gotta go play and we took it personal and that’s why the story is what it is.”

Alabama had only given up a combined 27 first-quarter points all season long. But just as the Tide was low, the changing of the time would see the No. 4 team in the nation back into the game. Thanks to an 73-yard punt return by elusive defensive back Javier Arenas, the Tide marched back within striking distance at 21-10 at halftime. It was there that the Utah offense began to see the pressure and the defense started to tire. Even after Johnson had a crucial fumble in Utah territory with the Utes owning prime field position to start the second half, the Utes did what they have done all season long and responded when it mattered.

“We just knew we had to come out and play our normal game,” said free safety Robert Johnson. “A lot of people have been talking about how Utah’s going to be beat really bad by Alabama and the score says a little bit different. Our whole theme within practice this week was the same thing we’ve been practicing the whole year and we wind up 13-0.”

With Alabama knocking at the door at 21-17, Johnson and the offense marched down the field only up four and put the final stamp on the would-be victory. On third-and-10 on the Tide 28-yard line, Johnson found David Reed on a quick slant. Reed shrugged off Kareem Jackson and bolted for Johnson’s third touchdown pass of the game to put the Utes up 28-17.

Utah’s defense wound up being the better of the two as well. While the Tide’s No. 3 overall defense in the country had the bloated national compliments, the Ute defense shined much brighter. Linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and “stud” backer fill-in Kepa Gaison combined for five of Utah’s eight sacks. Utah also held the tandem of Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram to a combined 62 yards on 21 carries.

“It shouldn’t matter how many guys (Utah) has in the box, we felt like we were going to be able to run the ball no matter what they were going to do,” Coffee said. “The running backs, the offensive line and the quarterbacks8212;the entire offensive unit was not up to par tonight.”

So as the story goes, the only unblemished team in the nation can now rest easy. Nearly over six months after the Utes escaped Ann Arbor, Mich., with a two-point victory over a now 3-9 Michigan team, Utah did what they needed to do and won every single football game in the process.

“Well, I don’t know why we wouldn’t deserve that consideration,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham when asked if his 13-0 Utes deserve to play for a national title. “Somebody has to explain to me why we wouldn’t. There is only one undefeated team in the United States of American right now in Division-1 football, and it’s these guys right here.”

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