August 23, 2007

#14: October 3, 2003 - Utah vs. Oregon

HOW IS IT GREAT? At this point in the 2003 season, the Utes already had a near-win in College Station, TX, a victory over a Pac-10 foe on national TV, and a last-minute win on the road against a strong MWC title contender. The next item of business was another different kind of test: a ranked team; one that won at Michigan two weeks earlier.

Even though Oregon followed up their upset over #3 Michigan with a home loss against Washington State, they entered Salt Lake 4-1 and ranked #19 (Coaches Poll) in the nation. ESPN2 was present to broadcast the Friday night game.

But the Utes did not shrivel under the heat of the national spotlight. They made the Ducks earn every point they got. A long scoring strike from Alex Smith to Steve Savoy made the score 13-10 in favor of Oregon with 9:15 left in the first half and began what would be a tough defensive battle for the final 39 minutes featuring big plays by the usual playmakers such as Dave Revill (five tackles) and Morgan Scalley (interception), and by newcomers such as Marquess Ledbetter (three sacks) and Eric Weddle (sack-fumble recovery in the clutch).

Before the season started, I decided to fly out to Utah from Cincinnati to see one Utah game. Oregon seemed to be the biggest game on the home schedule, but I had no idea at the time that the game would turn out to be as big as it was. My buddy who sat with me through the painful 2002 season hooked me up with the ticket. Being at RES for the first time since the UNLV '02 game, the difference in atmosphere and energy was as obvious as night and day.

After this loss, Oregon was dropped from the national polls but finished the season with a respectable 8-5 record and a Sun Bowl appearance. Curiously though, Utah did not receive a ranking following this game and wouldn't appear in the polls until they beat UNLV two weeks later.

2007 RANKING: #7. This was one of six games from 2003 featured on the countdown. That season had a mixture of both close finishes (CSU, AFA, BYU), and great performances in the national spotlight (Cal and Southern Miss). But this game had the best of both worlds. It was the greatest game in one of Utah's greatest seasons ever.

FURTHER VIEWING:


WHAT THE PRESS HAD TO SAY:

PRESSED DUCKS
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Utes Rally, Then Hang On For A Huge Win
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By Dirk Facer
Deseret Morning News
October 4, 2003

Utah coach Urban Meyer got what he asked for against 19th-ranked Oregon.

His pleas for a packed house and more playmakers were answered Friday night as the Utes defeated the Ducks 17-13.

"This was a great win for Utah football," Meyer said. "I've coached for 19 years and I've never been more proud of a group of guys and I really mean that."

With a national television audience watching on ESPN2 and the sixth-largest crowd in Rice-Eccles Stadium history (44,676) packed into the stands, the program picked up its first victory over a ranked team in nearly four years. At 4-1 overall, the Utes will likely end up in the top 25 themselves.

"Hopefully this will get us into the ranking this week," freshman Steve Savoy said. "This is a big win."

An 8-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to tight end Ben Moa gave Utah its first and only lead with 13:07 remaining. It capped a spirited rally that featured timely performances on both sides of the ball.

Smith had a career performance by completing 25-of-38 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns. Savoy also had his best game as a Ute.

He caught six passes for 176 yards and a score on a night when Utah racked up 466 yards of total offense.

Facing a rushing defense that ranked sixth in the nation and allowed just 59.2 yards per game, tailback Brandon Warfield managed 74 on 22 carries. It complemented a passing attack that as Meyer promised would be less conservative. Former Oregon receiver Paris Warren, who transferred to Utah two years ago, had 10 catches for 54 yards against his old team. He also had 32 yards rushing.

Strong efforts also came on defense. Freshman Eric Weddle, in just his second career start at cornerback, recovered a fumble after hitting Oregon quarterback Jason Fife near midfield with less than five minutes remaining. It ended the last serious threat the Ducks had.

"Ever since the second half of the Texas A&M game these guys have been terrific," Utah defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham said. "They are just a resilient, gutsy group. They just keep getting better and better each week."

Freshman Shaun Harper also made a big play down the stretch when he batted a fourth-down pass down with 2:21 to go. Other defenders of note include Josh Savage, who broke up three passes, and Marquess Ledbetter, who was credited with three sacks.

After Utah was stopped at the goal line in the closing minutes, Spencer Toone made a tackle on the Oregon 34 to end the game.

"I give credit to Utah's defense," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "They did a very good job tonight."

The Ducks jumped out to a 13-3 lead early in the second quarter by bridging two scoring drives with a fumble recovery. Utah's only miscue in the half followed an Oregon touchdown and preceded a 40-yard field goal by Jared Siegel.

The go-ahead score, on a drive that included a fake punt that produced a pass completion for a first down near midfield, came on a 2-yard keeper by Kellen Clemens. He dove into the end zone for a touchdown just ahead of pursuing Utah linebacker Ray Holdcraft.

On the ensuing possession, the Utes turned the ball over when Travis LaTendresse was hit by cornerback Steven Moore. Massive defensive end Igor Olshansky, who is 6-foot-6 and weighs 309 pounds, secured the loose ball on the Utah 30. Four plays later, SIegel's kick gave Oregon the game's biggest lead with 11:13 remaining in the half.

Meyer's vow to be less conservative with his spread offense first came to fruition in Utah's comeback bid. A 69-yard touchdown pass — the longest for the Utes in nearly a year — closed the gap less than two minutes later. Smith teamed with Savoy on the scoring strike that made it 13-10.

Kicker Bryan Borreson converted the PAT, but failed to connect on a pair of chip shots that could have tied the game and eventually put the Utes ahead before the intermission. A 24-yard attempt caromed off the left upright, while a 25-yard kick was wide right.

The misses, the first of which negated a 25-yard interception return by Morgan Scalley, allowed Oregon to hold a 13-10 lead at halftime.

After opening the game with an exchange of punts, the teams swapped sustained drives and field goals.

Oregon struck first by moving 55 yards on 10 plays. Siegel capped the drive with a 42-yard field goal. Trailing 3-0, Utah pulled even in the final two minutes of the first quarter when Borreson connected on a 28-yard kick. It concluded a 14-play, 69-yard series that took 5:46 off the clock.

Though opportunities later materialized, the score was never tied again.

With its last non-conference game in the books, Utah enters a season-ending stretch of six league games in seven weeks. Things get started next Saturday when San Diego State comes to town for homecoming. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.

The Utes have won four straight Mountain West Conference games dating back to last season. On Sept. 27, they prevailed at Colorado State 28-21.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great Article. Pound the Beavers, again.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if that incredible showing by the Oregon offense is when we realized that we just had to have Ludwig if he ever "became available."