August 9, 2007

2003 Liberty Bowl - Utah vs. Southern Miss

HOW IS IT GREAT? This was a great way to end an amazing season. Utah came into the game with a 9-2 record and ranked #25 in both polls, and riding a six-quarter shutout streak that they would extend to 10.

Southern Miss also entered the game with a solid record: 9-3. The most impressive part of that record was the Golden Eagles' 8-0 conference mark, which included a 40-28 victory over TCU who was 10-0 at the time, ranked #9 Coaches/#10 AP, and on track to be the first to crash the BCS. Southern Miss' only losses that season were to California, Alabama, and Nebraska.


This game is one example of how much Utah relied on their solid defense during the Urban Meyer era. In 2003 and 2004, offense was the highlight of the Ute team, and has become the hallmark of Urban Meyer's tenure. However, victories such as this one must be credited to Utah's staunch defense. They created turnovers at key moments of the game, sacked SoMiss QBs five times, and completely shut down the Golden Eagle offense.

2007 RANKING: #21. With this win, the Utes finished the season ranked #21 in both polls. But perhaps the most important aspect of this win was that it set Utah up for a good pre-season ranking the following season: #20 AP/#21 Coaches, and poised for the epic 2004 run.

This game also gets points due to the Utes' dominating performance, especially down the stretch when the outcome was still in doubt. The defense in particular thoroughly kicked the $#!+e out of SoMiss QB Dustin Almond and caused him to lose his cool on more than one occasion. Finally, Morgan Scalley sealed the win with a 74-yard fumble return with 1:36 left, which brought Southern Miss' comeback bid to an abrupt halt.

FURTHER READING:
• Block U named this the #10 Game of the Decade.

FURTHER VIEWING:


WHAT THE PRESS HAD TO SAY:

PERFECT 10
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Liberty Bowl Caps U.'s 10-Win Season
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By Dirk Facer
Deseret Morning News
January 1, 2004

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Sione Pouha had a firm grip on the Liberty Bowl championship trophy as he carried it off the field. After Utah's 17-0 victory over Southern Mississippi, the defensive lineman was savoring the moment.

In a year in which the Utes changed head coaches — going from Ron McBride to Urban Meyer — a transformation took place. It wasn't easy, admitted Pouha, but in the end it proved to be quite rewarding. For just the second time in program history, they've won 10 games .

"As you can see, the fruits of what (Meyer) knows and his principles pretty much gave us a lot of W's," Pouha said. "Now we're champions of the Liberty Bowl and also the Mountain West."

It's almost certain, too, that the 25th-ranked Utes (10-2) will move up in the final polls.

"We have a special group," Meyer said. "They were challenged. They accepted the challenge and played their hearts out."

It took that kind of effort Wednesday afternoon.

Brandon Warfield, who rushed for a game-high 91 yards and one touchdown, was named the Most Valuable Player in a contest dominated by defense.

"I did what I did, but I don't think I really deserve it. The defense should have won the MVP award," Warfield said. "They saved us the whole game."

Utah's defense recorded its second consecutive shutout and extended a run of scoreless quarters to 10. Defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham called it a tribute to the players.

"They have a great work ethic, they pay attention, they take coaching, they're intelligent and they play hard," Whittingham said. "You get that combination and it makes my job very easy."

The Ute defense grounded the Golden Eagles by registering five quarterback sacks and recovering four fumbles. One of the latter was scooped up by starting safety Morgan Scalley, who rambled 74 yards for a touchdown.

"I just picked up the ball. Dave Revill and Eric Weddle are the ones that got him," Scalley said. "I got lucky. It bounced right into my hands."

Scalley's fumble return capped all scoring in a hard-fought contest featuring 24 combined penalties and 4-of-31 success on third-down conversions by the teams.

"The two defenses were tough. We came to play," said Utah cornerback Dave Revill, who set up a 19-yard field goal by Bryan Borreson with 3:24 remaining by sacking Southern Miss quarterback Mickey D'Angelo on fourth down. The kick gave the Utes some room to breathe in what was a 7-0 game.

"Our offense was caught off-guard a little bit, and so was theirs," Revill added. "It was a defensive battle."

Utah's offense had its share of woes — fumbling six times (losing four) and turning the ball over once on an interception. The Utes converted on just 2-of-15 third-down opportunities. Complicating matters was the loss of starting guard Thomas Herrion. He re-aggravated an ankle injury on Warfield's touchdown run.

"We were close all night. Brandon and our o-line saved us a little bit offensively there for a while," said quarterback Alex Smith, who completed 8-of-19 passes for 124 yards. "The defense, my hat's off to them, they won the game for us."

Lewis Powell, who was named Utah's defensive MVP in the game, led the Utes by recovering two fumbles. Ray Holdcraft had a team-high six tackles, including 2 1/2 behind the line of scrimmage, and Josh Savage deflected four passes. Southern Miss quarterback Dustin Almond and back-up D'Angelo teamed to complete only 13-of-39 throws.

"All the plays that needed to be made were made," Savage said. "Then was great pressure on the quarterback all night. I think that was the key."

Paris Warren became Utah's single-season receptions record-holder when he hauled in a shovel pass from Smith late in the second quarter. It netted just 2 yards, and the Utes were soon forced to punt. They kicked the ball away four times in the first half.

Southern Miss did the same as a defense began dominating the day. The Golden Eagles, who missed a 47-yard field goal, turned the ball over on a loss-of-downs and lost a fumble on their other first-half possessions, had just 64 yards of total offense on 32 plays before the break.

The turnover proved pivotal as it set up the game's first score. Powell recovered a fumble on the Southern Miss 17 that teammate Morgan Scalley caused when he sacked quarterback Dustin Almond.

A 12-yard gain on a reverse by Steve Savoy followed and set up Warfield's touchdown run. Previous Utah drives ended in frustration.

The first series came to a close when Smith mishandled a shotgun snap and Seth Cumbie recovered for Southern Miss. The next two drives were stymied when the Utes gave up quarterback sacks on third down.

A 29-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter was foiled on a bad snap by Brady Parkhurst. Kicker Bryan Borreson pounced on it 10 yards back for a loss on downs. Utah's next series, the final one before the score, consisted of three plays and a punt.

At halftime, Meyer was more concerned with Utah's seven penalties than the lack of execution on offense. He credited the nationally ranked Southern Miss defense, which mixes odd stack and 4-3 formations, for living up to its billing.

In the end, however, Utah's proved superior.

"Our defensive staff and players were phenomenal. For 10 quarters I have seen as good of defensive football as I have been around . . . They stepped up big time," Meyer said. "I am honored and privileged to be part of this football team. With all respect to the 1994 Utah football team, I think this team will go down as the greatest senior class ever in the history of football at Utah.

"We won the championship of our conference and the bowl game," he continued, "And forever they will be remembered for that."

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