July 6, 2009

October 30, 1993 - Utah vs. San Diego State

HOW IS IT GREAT? It was Jamal Anderson vs. Marshall Faulk. A billing more impressive now that we know what these players went on to do in the NFL. Still, even at the time, this game was attracting widespread attention.

Faulk, who had led the nation in rushing and scoring the previous two seasons, had already rushed for 924 yards (in eight games) that season. And the Aztec offense could pass the ball too. They ranked ninth nationally in passing offense (led by WR Darnay Scott - nation's fifth-leading receiver, and QB Tim Guitierrez).

And finally, San Diego State (6-2, 4-0) entered the game as the WAC leader in total defense.

But nevermind all the pre-game hype. The Utes certainly didn't pay much attention to it.

Utah (4-4, 2-2) held tough against the Aztecs and fought their way out to a 14-7 halftime lead. But anyone familiar with the wacky-WAC of the 1990s probably knew there was a lot of scoring yet to come. And there was.

The second half featured 65 points-scored, and nine lead changes. San Diego State scored their final points on a touchdown with 1:02 left in the game, giving them a 41-38 lead. But Utah returned the ensuing kickoff near their own territory, and quickly moved the ball down to the 17 yard-line. From there, with 9 seconds left, Mike McCoy found Greg Hooks for the winning TD strike.

There were plenty of stats to go around that day. Jamal Anderson finished with 156 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. McCoy passed for 389 yards, including an 87-yard TD bomb to Henry Lusk, who finished with 166 yards receiving.

The opponents also racked up the stats. Faulk rushed for 146 yards -- 10 shy of Anderson's total. Guitierrez passed for 419 yards to 10 different receivers.

FURTHER READING:
• "The most fantastic win I've ever been around."
--Utah Coach Ron McBride.

• "I knew right then we were going to win. I saw there was no safety [covering Hooks], and Greg was smiling. I could feel it . . . I was smiling too."
-- Utah QB Mike McCoy,
recalling the thoughts he had right before the game-winning play.

WHAT THE PRESS HAD TO SAY:

ATTENTION WAC: UTES ARE BACK
----
By Doug Robinson
Deseret News
October 31, 1993

Even while San Diego State was still driving for a last-minute go-ahead touchdown and fans and teammates were tearing their hair out, Utah quarterback Mike McCoy, the coolest man in Rice Stadium, was plotting his next move.

McCoy was on the phone with coaches in the press box, making a list of plays for the comeback drive. When Utah got the ball back, down 41-38 with 56 seconds and 58 yards to go, McCoy's heart rate was barely riled as he trotted onto the field. "He had all the plays in his head before we even went out there,” said fullback Jamal Anderson.

In the huddle, center Lance Scott threw down the challenge: “Which one of you receivers or running backs is going to make the big play?” Calling half the plays himself with hand signals to the sideline, McCoy took the Utes down the field in six plays and 47 seconds. A 2-yard run by McCoy, a 22-yard scramble by McCoy, a 12-yard pass to Deron Claiborne, a dropped pass by Curtis Marsh, an incomplete pass, and, whew, with 14 seconds left, the Utes faced third-and-10 at the Aztec 17.

Offensive coordinator Rick Rasnick sent in the play: a Quick 21. Translation: a quick slant to wideout Greg Hooks. McCoy knew it was the right play, especially when he hunched over the center and saw that Hooks had drawn single coverage with no free safety help.

“I knew he'd be open then,” said McCoy.

Hooks, who had been dropped to second string earlier this season after a string of dropped passes, grabbed the pass a step in front of his defender and veered into the end zone. With just nine seconds left, Utah had taken a 45-41 lead.

Bedlam. The Ute bench charged onto the field for the celebration, drawing a penalty for “unsportsmanlike conduct” (go figure). The 23,025 fans stood in front of their chairs and roared. On a day when no lead was safe and the best defense was to keep scoring and scoring, not even the Aztecs could come back with nine seconds left, and they didn't.

After eight lead changes in the second half, the Utes, with their first-class offense and hand-me-down defense, had finally beaten the Aztecs, who had begun the day atop the Western Athletic Conference standings with a 4-0 (6-2 overall) record.

“That was the most fantastic win I've ever been around,” said Utah coach McBride, who has watched his team reverse a three-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak since switching his sideline attire to a gray suit ensemble.

The Utes, 5-4 overall, 3-2 in WAC play, are back.

“They were the best team today,” said Aztec coach Al Luginbill. “I didn't expect this at all.”

The sheer numbers were staggering: 86 points, 1,213 yards (592 for Utah, 621 for SDS). McCoy, who is turning into a terrific quarterback after a shaky start, completed 21 of 34 passes for a career-record 389 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions and was sacked just once. His counterpart, Tim Gutierrez, was also prolific, completing 32 of 49 passes for 419 yards, 4 TDs and 2 interceptions.

But this wasn't just another WAC aerial show. The game also turned into an unexpected showdown between running backs: SDS's Marshall Faulk, the defending national rushing champion, and Utah's Jamal Anderson, a 244-pound fullback. Faulk, who was spelled part of the day by his talented backup, Wayne Pittman, rushed for 141 yards on 22 carries and 1 touchdown, but he was actually overshadowed by Anderson.

Earlier in the week, McBride had told Anderson, “I think we have the best back on our side,” and maybe he did. Anderson has been begging for the ball all year. The problem is, he is also one of the team's best blockers, and since he can't run and block at the same time, the Utes finally put 270-pound lineman Dave Boghossian in the backfield with him on Saturday to pave the way in short-yardage situations. Anderson turned a career-high 23 carries into 156 yards and 3 TDs.

“All week the offensive line kept telling me, 'We'll open the holes for you,' and they did,” said Anderson. Even so, Anderson spent much of the day carrying one or two terrified tacklers on his back or leaving a trail littered with would-be tacklers.

After the game, Anderson and Faulk shook hands at midfield. “Man, good job. Good job,” said Faulk, shaking his head in disbelief.

That was about the last anyone heard from Faulk, who refused to meet with reporters after the game, preferring instead to sit in front of his locker. Perhaps he was wondering how it is possible that a team can score 41 points and still lose.

There were two games played on Saturday. The first half belonged to the defenses, the second half to the offense. Late in the first quarter, McCoy began to flee upfield to escape a hard rush when he flipped a sidearm pass to Henry Lusk, crossing from left to right. Lusk turned north at the sideline behind a block from Keith Williams, high-stepped out of a tackle and, displaying surprising speed for a man of 220 pounds, sprinted for an 87-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Utah lead.

The Aztecs tied the score midway through the second quarter on a 4-yard pass from Gutierrez to Will Tate, but just before the half McCoy completed a 42-yard pass to Claiborne at the 17, and from there the Utes gave the ball to Anderson on four straight running plays, finally scoring on a 1-yard run. That gave Utah a 14-7 halftime lead.

End of half. End of defense. Of the 14 offensive possessions in the second half, 10 ended in scores, including four consecutive 80-yard drives. Who could tell that the Aztecs were the top-ranked defense in the WAC? Certainly, the Utes are the WAC's most battered defense.

Before the game began, Utah had six starting defensive backs sidelined with injuries. On Saturday, three more joined the sideline club - Adolph County (sprained knee), Jimmy Pryor (concussion) and Ernest Boyd (sprained ankle). On a couple of plays, safety Harold Lusk also left the game with a shoulder injury, and the Utes considered moving wideout Bryan Rowley to the secondary. The Utes are so thin that kicker Brian Alba was placed on the kicking team - as a tackler.

The scoring binge began. The Aztecs made it 14-14 on a 5-yard run by Faulk. A 42-yard pass to Rowley set up a 46-yard Chris Yergensen field goal for a 17-14 Utah lead. A 43-yard run by Faulk set up a 12-yard scoring pass to Jake Nyberg. Score: 20-17, Aztecs. Lusk, who caught 5 passes for 166 yards, turned a short pass into a 47-yard gain, setting up another score: a 9-yard pass to Hooks. Score: 24-20, Utah.

Fourth quarter. Gutierrez's pass into the end zone deflected off the hands of safety Harold Lusk and into the waiting arms of Darnay Scott. Touchdown. Score: 27-24, Aztecs. On a nine-play, 80-yard drive, the Utes gave the ball to Anderson six times, including a 3-yard TD run. Score: 31-27, Utah.

More scoring. On third and 27, Pittman ran 27 yards for a touchdown and a 34-31 Aztec lead with 7:43 remaining. Anderson ran 2 yards for another touchdown and a 38-34 Utah lead with 5:24 remaining. Utah finally stopped the SDS offense for the first time in the second half, but the Aztecs did the same to the Ute offense. The Aztecs then moved 44 yards in 39 seconds for a score - an 18-yard pass from Gutierrez to DeAndre Maxwell - to take a 41-38 lead with 1:02 remaining.

The Aztecs celebrated, but they were premature. "I had all the confidence in the world,” said McCoy. “I told the guys, ‘We’re going to score. We’re going to win.’" The Utes did just that.

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