The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

Write for Us
Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.
Print Issues

Defensive pressure proves critical to Ute victory

By Tony Pizza, Sports Editor

NEW ORLEANS8212;Brian Johnson was named the Sugar Bowl’s most outstanding player, but maybe that’s because the bowl committee didn’t bring enough trophies for 11 guys.

Defensive coordinator Gary Andersen dialed up a myriad of run and pass blitzing schemes and a Utah defense that was tired of hearing the one-sided praise of Alabama’s skills, used speed and pressure to force the former No. 1 Crimson Tide into a series of turnovers and just 208 net yards on the night.

“If you tell me the player of the game right now, without even watching the film, I guarantee you it’s the defense because nobody played bad out there,” Andersen said.

Alabama entered the 75th Sugar Bowl as the 22nd best rushing team in the country, averaging a little better than 196 yards on the ground. The Tide managed through a tough SEC schedule behind a big, athletic offensive line and the running abilities of 6-foot, 220 pound tailback Glen Coffee and change-up runner Mark Ingram.

Utah knew that stopping the run would be critical and through film study, the best idea was to leave the defensive backs on an island and trust that Utah’s pressure would get the job done. It worked to near perfection and resulted in the Tide scoring just 17 points, most of which came on a punt return for a touchdown and a fumble in Utah territory that led to an Alabama score.

“Our front seven is amazing,” free safety Robert Johnson said. “The coach told them, as long as they get to the quarterback, quarterback will make some bad mistakes by throwing into the teeth of the defense and I guess I was the teeth of the defense. I got two interceptions.”

Johnson’s first pick came on the heels of a five-play Utah drive that managed to whiplash most of the Sugar Bowl crowd and the entire Alabama sideline. Two plays into Alabama’s attempt to respond, Johnson got a gift thrown in his direction that should have never been passed in the first place.

After seizing complete control of the momentum, Utah went on to collect eight sacks, led by second-team all-Mountain West Conference linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, who collected three, good for 16 lost yards. He also lead the Utes with seven tackles, five or which were solo efforts.

Kepa Gaison, who came to Utah as a punter, was starting in place of usual linebacker Nai Fotu. Gaison had two sacks, including one that put Alabama out of field goal range on third down.

It’s always important to get pressure on the quarterback, to get the rush on the quarterback so that the secondary can cover and eliminate the run,” Gaison said. “It was our pass rush that just shut them out.”

Even when Alabama caught on to Utah’s plan and started to counter the blitz with screens to Coffee and Ingram, Alabama didn’t cross midfield until almost the end of the first quarter.

“We were hungry, you know, everybody wanted to come out and dominate and do our thing and things went our way,” defensive end Paul Kruger said. “We came out fortunate. I just can’t be can’t be more proud of these guys. It’s awesome.”

Brash corner Sean Smith did a tremendous job covering Alabama’s best receiver, Julio Jones. The top freshman receiver in the country finished with seven receptions for 77 yards, and none of those receptions were as big as Smith’s sack on a corner blitz that popped the ball loose from Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson will just over 5 minutes to play in the game.

None other than Sylvester came up with the fumble recovery and even the 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct could put a damper on his night or Utah’s defensive performance.

We were saying the whole game that it was like a dream,” Sylvester said. “We started in Michigan, the Big House, ending in the Sugar Bowl, the Superdome. I mean, it’s a dream, it’s a dream come true and I was living the dream.”

[email protected]

Leave a Comment

Comments (0)

We welcome feedback and dialogue from our community. However, when necessary, The Daily Utah Chronicle reserves the right to remove user comments. Posts may be removed for any of the following reasons: • Comments on a post that do not relate to the subject matter of the story • The use of obscene, threatening, defamatory, or harassing language • Comments advocating illegal activity • Posts violating copyrights or trademarks • Advertisement or promotion of commercial products, services, entities, or individuals • Duplicative comments by the same user. In the case of identical comments only the first submission will be posted. Users who habitually post comments or content that must be removed can be blocked from the comment section.
All The Daily Utah Chronicle Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *