August 13, 2007

1999 Las Vegas Bowl - Utah vs. Fresno State

HOW IS IT GREAT? This was the first in what has become a 6-game bowl win streak. Fresno State (8-4) was the WAC co-Champion, and Utah (8-3) was one of three teams to share the MWC Championship that year. The Bulldogs were led by Billy Volek, who is currently a backup QB for the San Diego Chargers. Volek was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the nation that year, throwing 30 TDs and only 3 picks. Meanwhile, Utah's QB, T.D. Crowshaw (who got married two days before the game) went down with a shoulder injury during the third quarter, and Steve Smith was sidelined with a cracked cervical vertebrae.

But Utah's RB Mike Anderson was perfectly healthy. He tore the Bulldog defense apart for 254 yards on 34 carries, and two touchdowns. Those 254 yards set a Las Vegas Bowl record, and remain the most rushing yards ever by a Ute in a single game. Another hero was Darnell Arceneaux, who had spent the last month and a half on the sidelines recovering from his second concussion. Most people though he had already taken the last snap of his career. Nevertheless, he came in for the injured T.D. Crowshaw and made some key plays for the Utes, including a third-down pass completion in which Arceneaux took a vicious hit. He suffered from blurred vision for the rest of the game.

1999 was one of those seasons where Utah had a great lineup and won some big games, but also had a couple bad losses (Wyoming, Boise State) that kept them from having a really sensational season. This bowl victory ended the season on a very nice note, and was also the beginning of an awesome bowl-winning streak that endures to this day.

2007 RANKING: #17. I place this game ahead of classics such as AFA '95, Minnesota '90, and TDS '78 mainly because bowl victories have such a lasting effect on a program. Whereas upsets and comebacks can change the course of a season and give a team national exposure, the effects of such wins typically don't have the long term significance as a bowl victory. This is especially true here since the Utes continue to build on the streak that started with this win.

By the way, the thrilling fashion in which this game ended made it a regular feature on ESPNClassic's rotation.

FURTHER VIEWING:


WHAT THE PRESS HAD TO SAY:

VIVA LAS VEGAS
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Anderson, Utes Bowl Over Fresno State
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By Linda Hamilton
Deseret News
December 19, 1999

LAS VEGAS -- Ron McBride and Cletus Truhe haven't been the best of friends over the last five years.

The Utah coach is tough on his placekickers when they miss. Truhe stuck around campus after losing his kicking job last year mainly because he likes special teams coach Sean McNabb. Both have taken their lumps from fans. But the two exited the last Ute football game of the century on top of their mutual world Saturday night.

Or at least on top of tailback Mike Anderson's shoulders.

The ex-Marine led a Ute offensive barrage (548 total-offense yards) that ended with Truhe's dream of a game-winning kick coming true in a 17-16 win over Fresno State in Las Vegas Bowl VIII at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Meanwhile, a Ute defense led by linebackers Kautai Olevao and Kimball Christianson and defensive backs Teneil Ethridge and Andre and Patrick Dyson held Fresno QB Billy Volek to 14-for-28 for 147 yards and no touchdowns. Volek averaged 60 percent completions and threw 30 TD passes to only three interceptions for the season, an NCAA record. And noseguard Maake Kemoeatu blocked a Fresno PAT attempt after its second TD to give Truhe's field goal a chance to win the game.

The Utes finish their season 9-3 with the Vegas Bowl trophy and Anderson's MVP trophy for a Utah- and Vegas Bowl-record 254-yard rushing performance that included Utah's only two touchdowns. He broke the bowl record by 69 yards and the school record by six yards in leading the charge.

Anderson typically thanked the offensive line for hitting Fresno's moving-target defenders. "All that energy they were giving me, I wanted to give it back," he said. "I'll never forget this team, the coaches or the school. This was a great way to end my career. This is unbelievable for me."

He said the linemen picked up Fresno's moving slants and blitzes, and the job of the running backs was just to make a read at the line and go. He went for 76 yards on Utah's first rush of the game on just such a read. "I was really shocked," he said. "I knew then that it would be a great game.

Runs like Anderson -- and fellow senior Omar Bacon (eight carries, 91 yards) -- made on Saturday night before a bowl-record actual crowd of 22,542 made it easier on Utah's quarterback situation that changed unexpectedly when T.D. Croshaw suffered a bruised/strained throwing shoulder on the only interception of the game with 14 minutes left in the second quarter.

"It keeps teams from blitzing you," said a grateful backup QB Darnell Arceneaux. He had prepared all week to play receiver but was 8-for-15 for 94 yards, including a spectacular grab by Clifford Russell for 20 yards to keep Utah's final scoring drive moving toward Truhe's 33-yard field goal with 5:03 left in the game.

It's the second-best season record and second bowl victory in five tries in McBride's 10 years at Utah.

And Truhe's dream was finally realized -- but only after his first two field-goal attempts were blocked by a fierce Bulldog rush. "It took five years, but it finally came true," said Truhe, who began kicking again in October after 1-1/2 years as a holder for Ryan Kaneshiro and, earlier this season, for Golden Whetman.

"He kicked it through when it counted," McBride acknowledged about Truhe.

"What are you doing blocking our kicks?" McBride said to his son-in-law, John Baxter, who is Fresno's special-teams coach.

"That's my job," said Baxter, who defended his father-in-law's honor. "People in the state of Utah don't know how lucky they are to have Ron McBride as coach. You have to lose something to realize what you have," he said in reference to the many people who were calling for McBride's job after the Utes lost to Boise State and then lost back-to-back games to Mountain West Conference foes Colorado State and Wyoming to seemingly take Utah out of the championship picture.

But the Utes beat New Mexico and won at Brigham Young to win a share of the first MWC championship and a place in this bowl.

McBride said the loss to Wyoming, in a game the Utes dominated in the first half, was a turning point for a team that learned how to stay focused through four quarters.

Saturday, there were so many reasons to give up -- two blocked kicks, the first returned 75 yards for a Fresno touchdown by Payton Williams for a 7-0 Bulldog lead with 9:32 left in the first quarter, and a lop-sided load of yellow flags. Utah got 15 penalties worth 151 yards, "all at crucial times," according to McBride. Fresno had six penalties for 59 yards, one for 15 yards coming on an unsportmanlike late hit on Arceneaux during an Anderson 2-yard run with less than two minutes left.

That sealed Utah's one-point win, allowing it a first down that enabled the Utes to keep possession through Fresno's final timeout and then just run out the clock.

Fresno held leads of 7-0 and 10-7, but Anderson's 5-yard run with 7:21 left in the third quarter and Truhe's PAT put Utah up 14-10. Aided by a Ute facemask penalty on a 16-yard run by Charles Smith, Fresno took a 16-14 lead just into the fourth quarter, but the Kemoeatu PAT block left room for a Ute field goal to win the game.

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