July 27, 2007

September 7, 1996 - Utah at Stanford

HOW IS IT GREAT? After a head-scratching loss against Utah State in the season opener, Utah traveled to Palo Alto where they beat Stanford from the Pac-10, beginning what would become a 7-game winning streak. This streak would ultimately include a national ranking and even more upsets (stay tuned to the countdown).

Utah's offense scored on their first possession (when Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala carried the entire Cardinal defense with him into the end zone), and never trailed. But it was Utah's defense that stole the show, holding Stanford scoreless through three quarters until the game was in hand.

Utah finished the 1996 season tied for second in the WAC and were rewarded a berth in the Copper Bowl where they lost to Ron Dayne and the Wisconsin Badgers. The Utes also spent 5 weeks ranked in the Top-25 Coaches Poll that season (4 weeks; AP) rising as high as #19 by the end of October (#20; AP).

Stanford, on the other hand, struggled during the first half of the season going just 2-5 in the first 7 games. However, they eventually got their act together to go 5-3 in conference play and represented the Pac-10 in the Sun Bowl where they soundly beat Michigan State 38-zip.

2007 RANKING: #34. This is one of just a few road games appearing in the countdown. Excluding Bowl Games, Utah has historically won few big games in the road.

Maybe this game would be ranked higher if Utah was 1-0 going into the game, instead of 0-1. It would certainly be more memorable had Stanford been stronger in 1996 or had put up a better fight in this game. Nevertheless, this was a solid win over an top program and it launched what would become a very successful season for the Utes.



By Mike Sorensen
Deseret News
September 8, 1996

To say Utah was desperate for a win against Stanford Saturday is an understatement.

One player felt like the Utes were "the laughingstock of Utah,'' after last week's loss to Utah State. Coach Ron McBride said, "This is a game we had to win. We had no choice. We knew we couldn't come away with anything less than a win.'' Although they kept it interesting right down to the final minute, the Utes did indeed come away with a win, an important 17-10 victory before 34,587 at Stanford Stadium in a regionally televised game.

The win evened the Utes' record at 1-1 and, for the time being anyway, erased the embarrassment of last week's 20-17 loss to Utah State.

Juan Johnson, sporting an unfamiliar No. 19 jersey for most of the game after his No. 2 got ripped, rushed for 114 yards on the day, Mike Fouts passed for 222 yards and one touchdown, while a fired-up Ute defense came within a few minutes of a shutout.

"We had to make a statement that Utah did have a defense,'' said free safety Harold Lusk. "We took care of business today.''

The Utes shut down the vaunted Cardinal running game, allowing just 60 net yards to a team that returned the top two rushers from a team that averaged 165 yards per game last year.

Even as well as his defense played, defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham wasn't entirely happy afterward.

"We played great for three quarters, but had a letdown,'' he said. "We need to develop that killer instinct. But it's nice to learn that in a winning ballgame.''

The Utes pulled out all the stops for this one. They changed to their red pants from the whites of a week earlier and McBride even remembered to wear his lucky "110 percent'' pin that he'd forgot a week earlier. And to start the game, the Utes elected to receive rather than defer as they usually do.

"I wanted to set the tone to go out and establish our offense early in the game,'' said McBride.

The Utes did just that, marching 80 yards in 11 plays to go up 7-0 on Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala's 3-yard touchdown. On the scoring play, Fuamatu-Ma'afala powered his way up the middle, breaking several tackles and carrying safety Eliel Swinton on his back.

"That was key to put pressure on them early,'' said McBride.

Early in the second quarter, the Utes put together another nice drive, going 77 yards in 10 plays, mostly using their passing game. Fouts hit Kevin Dyson for 21 yards and Rocky Henry, who came back from a hamstring injury to have a fine game (eight catches), for 15 yards on the drive.

The touchdown came on a 28-yard pass from Fouts to tight end C.J. Johnson, who caught the ball after it was tipped by Josh Madsen.

"I knew he wasn't going to intercept it, but I had a feeling he was going to tip it,'' said Johnson, a JC transfer from Houston. "I was in the right place and it was a bad tip for him and a good tip for me.''

On the Utes' next possession, they drove to the 5-yard line before Fuamatu-Ma'afala was stopped cold on third down by Chris Draft, who had 16 tackles. Daniel Pulsipher came in for the chip shot and surprisingly kicked it wide right.

Stanford looked like it might cut the lead right before the half, but the Ute defense came up with a big fourth-down stop on a quarterback sneak by Chad Hutchinson at the U. 38.

In the second half, the Utes had more trouble inside the red zone as they drove to the 1-yard line before settling for a 23-yard field goal by Pulsipsher with 4:45 left in the third quarter.

"That goal-line stuff is ridiculous,'' said McBride about his team's inability to punch it in twice from inside the 5-yard line.

The Ute defense came up big on Stanford's next possession, as Jason Hooks intercepted a Hutchinson pass that was actually thrown right to him.

Hutchinson played pretty well in his first start (23 of 40, 265 yards) that was surrounded by controversy all week. He won the job over senior Tim Carey, who quit the team after the decision and announced he was going to transfer to the University of Hawaii.

Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham showed his confidence in the redshirt freshman, by calling 14 straight pass plays late in the third quarter and early in the fourth.

A 46-yard pass to Brian Manning put the Cardinal into Utah territory and six plays later, Hutchinson found Troy Walters in the corner of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown pass. Both the 46-yarder and the TD pass came against Teneil Ethridge, a converted running back, who is playing in place of injured Calbert Beck.

On its next possession, Stanford moved from its own 8 to inside the Utah 10 in a little over a minute and got the crowd into the game for the first time.

Hooks came up with another big play on a second down stop at the 6-yard line and on third down, Hutchinson threw an incomplete pass. The Cardinal settled for a 22-yard field goal by Kevin Miller with 2:59 left, rather than go for the touchdown.

Then Stanford made a strange decision to go for an onsides kick, even though there were still three minutes left and it had its timeouts left. The kick was botched and Utah took over at the Stanford 41.

The Utes ran out the clock thanks to two key third-down plays, a 15-yard pass to Terence Keehan and a 2-yard dive by Johnson, the Utes' only option since Fuamatu-Ma'afala was on the bench with ice on an injured hip.

"The game was on the line and I just had to suck it up and go,'' said Johnson.

Although he was helped off the field after the game because of a hip pointer, Fuamatu-Ma'afala is expected to be fine for next week's game with SMU, which defeated Arkansas Saturday to move to 2-0.

GAME NOTES: The Utes are now 2-3 lifetime vs. Stanford. They won here in 1989 27-24 . . . Brandon Dart and Robert Love led the defense with seven tackles apiece. Dart started at strong safety in place of Love, who started at linebacker in place of Armand Boglin . . . In other lineup changes, Danny Davis played right guard in place of Darren Walker and Ryan Akina started at defensive tackle in place of Pene Talamaiva . . . Chad Kauhaahaa had the Utes' only sack of the game . . . Although it looked like a small crowd because of all the empty seats in the 85,000-seat stadium, more fans saw the game than could have at Utah's Rice Stadium.


Anonymous said...

Hi, you have Utah 17 California 10, shouldn't it be Stanford and not Cal? Ooops

D.A. Miller said...

Thanks for pointing that out. Fixed.