June 15, 2009

October 10, 1992 - Utah vs. Hawai'i

HOW IS IT GREAT? For the first time in many years, Utah was a real contender in the WAC title race. Ute fans had to have been pleased to know that their team, nearly halfway through the season, was playing in the WAC spotlight, and would be hosting the other main title contender - the Hawaii Rainbows - at Rice Stadium.

Moreover, Utah (3-1, 1-0) was a three-point favorite over this undefeated Hawaii team (3-0, 2-0), which had just beat BYU and Air Force, and had won at Oregon a few weeks prior.

And to up the ante, officials from the Copper, Aloha, and Freedom Bowls were among the 30,506 people in attendance (old Rice Stadium's official capacity was 32,500).

Not only was this game great because it was such an important WAC clash, but also because of the way Utah won. It was a rout. Pierre Jones (starting for injured tailback Keith Williams) rushed for 159 yards -- despite the fact that the Rainbows were leading the WAC in rush defense that season (127.7 yards/game).

On defense, consensus All-American Luther Elliss and the rest of the Ute D., held Hawaii to just 4-21 passing: a mere three completions in the first half, and a fourth during the final minute of the game.

After this victory, Utah was in the driver's seat to claim the WAC title. Instead, they lost their next two games (to a 3-8 New Mexico team and a 1-10 UTEP team). Utah's 1992 team became an example of a group who would contend in the big games, yet somehow find a way to lose to the weaker opponents -- a trait the has come to define that era of Ute football. Their crowning achievement that season was earning Utah's first bowl bid since 1964: to the Copper Bowl, where they fell short to #18 Washington State, 31-28.

The Rainbows bounced back from their loss to Utah and finished the 1992 season with a 11-2 record, a share of the WAC title, a victory over Illinois in the Holiday Bowl, and a #20 ranking in both polls. It was the best team Hawaii ever fielded, until their almost-undefeated 2007 team.

WHAT THE PRESS HAD TO SAY:

RAMPAGING UTES POUND RAINBOWS
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By Joe Baird
Salt Lake Tribune
October 11, 1992

There's something happening here.

Utah made that much abundantly clear Saturday afternoon, hammering previously unbeaten Hawaii 38-17 before 30,506 revelers at Rice Stadium.

In recording their fourth straight victory, the Utes:
  • Stayed in the WAC championship chase, improving to 2-0 in the conference and 4-1 overall.
  • Impressed a troika of scouts from the Copper, Aloha and Freedom Bowls, who were looking on from the press box.
  • Unburdened themselves of six years worth of frustration by beating the Rainbows for the first time since 1985.
  • Avenged last year's embarassing 52-26 rout in Aloha Stadium with a resounding stomp of their own.
"Beating Hawaii was something we needed to get off of our back," said coach Ron McBride, who has guided the Utes to their best start in seven years. "This is a game that we needed to win."

"It's one of the biggest wins I can remember," said senior linebacker Pita Tonga. "We're in a helluva position now. We've got a great opportunity to show people what we can do."

Most of the usual suspects weighed in for the Utes.

Frank Dolce completed 19 of 34 passes for 248 yards and two TDs and ran for a pair of 1-yard scores, while Sean Williams made eight catches for 82 yards. But it was Pierre Jones who posted the gaudiest numbers. Subbing again for the injured Keith Williams, the junior tailback turned 23 carries into 1 TD and 159 yards -- 125 of them after intermission. "Pierre and the offensive line just took over in the second half," said Dolce.

For the day, the Utes generated 478 yards of offense with a nearly perfect pass-run mix (248 through the air, 230 on the ground). "They really loaded up on us, even on the passing downs," said center Lance Scott. "We had to adjust. But once we did, we really got it rolling."

Defensively, Utah limited Hawaii to 335 yards. After some early problems, the Utes clamped down on the Rainbow option, and made life miserable for QBs Michael Carter and Ivin Jasper. The two combined to complete just 4 of 21 passes, and were sacked three times.

But most singificant were three Hawaii miscues -- two fumbles and an interception -- that the Utes cashed in for 17 points.

"Turnovers are always costly," said Hawaii coach Bob Wagner, whose team fell to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the WAC.

The Rainbows looked unstoppable early, dashing 54 yards on their first six plays to earn a 1st-and-goal at the Utah five. But the Utes stiffened and limited the 'Bows to a 35-yard Jason Elam field goal, then got their first break when Sharrieff Shah jumped on a Carter fumble one possession later.

In business at the Hawaii 15, Utah stunned the Rainbows on first down when guard Roy Ma'afala rumbled 14 yards on the old fumblerooski play. Dolce scored one snap later to make it 7-3.

Luther Elliss' recovery of an errant Carter pitch set up a 22-yard pass from Dolce to Henry Lusk and gave the Utes a 14-3 advantage. The Rainbows got back to within 14-10, but were back on their heels when Dolce and fullback Jamal Anderson linked up for a 24-yard scoring toss with 1:02 left in the half.

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