September 15, 2007

September 15, 2007 - Utah vs. UCLA

HOW IS IT GREAT? No one really knew what to make of this unexpected win. Nearly two years later, I'm still not totally sure what place this victory holds in Utah football history.

The 2007 season was off to a very disappointing start. The Utes were 0-2 and playing without key players Brian Johnson, Matt Asiata, Brent Casteel, Jason Boone, and Gabe Long, all of whom were injured. Meanwhile, UCLA was 2-0, ranked #11 in both polls and was a 16-point favorite to beat Utah.

UCLA was led on defense by Bruce Davis, who was a first-team All-Pac 10 Defensive End in 2007. On offense, they featured QB Ben Olsen, who torched the Utes for 318 yards passing at the Rose Bowl the year before.

But despite Utah's depleted roster, the Utes came out and immediately, and totally, dominated the Bruins. Fans were introduced to newcomers like Robert Johnson, Darrell Mack, Caleb Schlauderaff, Paul Kruger, and Corbin Louks -- each of whom made big plays that day. And Ben Olson was personally introduced to just about every member of Utah's front seven (a.k.a. he got his a$$ kicked).

The most puzzling thing about this win, however, is that one week later Utah looked as bad as they ever have - losing 27-0 at UNLV. Meanwhile, UCLA went on to win their next two and even climbed back into the polls before losing at home to Notre Dame a few weeks later.

By the end of the season though, Utah had managed to right the ship and prepared themselves for a great run in 2008. UCLA, on the other hand, finished the season with a losing record (6-7) and fired their head coach, Karl Dorrell.

Still, this was the highest-ranked opponent Utah had beaten since 1973.


Utes Put Together Complete Effort In Upsetting Nationally Ranked Bruins
By Dirk Facer
Deseret Morning News
September 16, 2007

Before addressing the media following Utah's 44-6 upset victory over No. 11 UCLA, head coach Kyle Whittingham tossed a crumpled piece of paper towards a garbage can a few yards away.

The throw was perfect.

"It's all going my way, isn't it?" Whittingham said.

It certainly was Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The Utes (1-2) surprised the Bruins in a variety of ways. Schemes, personnel changes and a little trickery added up to success.

"I've never been more proud of a group of players and a coaching staff as I am today," Whittingham said. "We put some different guys out there, and it all clicked."

Sophomore safety Robert Johnson had a stellar outing in his first start for Utah. He intercepted highly touted UCLA quarterback Ben Olson twice and forced a fumble on what would have been a pivotal touchdown by the Bruins.

The Utes sacked Olson five times and picked him off three times as the defense held UCLA to just a pair of field goals.

Offensively, tailback Darrell Mack put an end to Utah's season-long troubles running the ball. He netted 107 yards rushing to become the first Ute since Quinton Ganther in the 2005 Emerald Bowl to reach the century mark.

Quarterback Tommy Grady threw three touchdown passes in the victory, while true freshman Corbin Louks had one in his collegiate debut.

"It was a complete team effort out there," Whittingham said. " ... I feel so good for the players. They worked so hard."

After opening the season with losses to Oregon State (24-7) and Air Force (20-12), a blowout win over a nationally ranked UCLA team wasn't expected. Whittingham acknowledged it. He did, however, anticipate his squad putting a complete game together.

"I think this team, obviously, showed a lot today and throughout the week," senior captain Steve Tate said. "We kind of used the Davey vs. Goliath mentality. Nobody gave us a chance, but I think we stuck together."

And how.

UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said there wasn't enough time to discuss all the issues his team had in the game.

"It's disappointing. We didn't even play close to our potential and we were never in sync," he said. "We didn't handle the crowd noise and lost our poise. We stalled on several crucial drives.

"Our hats are off to Utah for being hungry and dying for the win today," Dorrell added.

Utah pulled away in the third quarter, taking a 27-6 lead into the final 15 minutes.

Kicker Louie Sakoda did his part by connecting on field goals from 47- and 45-yards out. The latter followed Johnson's second interception of Olson in the game.

Between kicks, freshmen Louks and Dallin Rogers, a tight end, teamed up on a 12-yard scoring strike.

In the midst of the outburst, though, Utah withstood a scare.

While holding a precarious 17-6 lead, the Utes nearly gave up a touchdown when Olson connected on a 50-yard pass to Marcus Everett. When the receiver raced to within two yards of the end zone, however, Johnson hit his arm and jarred the ball loose. It bounced out of the end zone for a touchback.

"That really killed any momentum we had gained," said Dorrell, who called it the big play of the game.

Johnson agreed.

"I couldn't give up a touchdown. Our defense was going too well to give up a touchdown," he said. "My plan was to knock the ball loose."

It worked, and UCLA never recovered.

In the fourth quarter, Utah put 17 more points on the board and Paul Kruger intercepted Olson.

Grady connected on a pair of short touchdown passes (5 and 4 yards, respectively) and Sakoda made a 44-yard field goal.

Utah wound up a season-high 386 yards of total offense and 19 first downs. The Utes entered the game as one of the nation's worst rushing teams, but wound up with 122 yards on the ground.

"We established the run game early," Mack said. "The offensive line did a great job today. They blocked everybody and pushed the defensive line back."

The Utes held a 14-6 halftime advantage. They capped things off with a wild sequence late in the second quarter — scoring on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Grady to Mack with just 23 seconds remaining.

The scoring drive featured four first downs, including a fake field goal that moved the markers when holder Bradon Godfrey took a direct snap and ran 5 yards on fourth-and-3.

Five plays earlier, Utah obtained possession when Johnson intercepted Olson in the red zone and returned it to the Ute 39. Linebacker Kyle Brady set the play in motion by hitting Olson as he threw the ball.

"Our whole defense did very well," said Johnson, who nearly wound up with three interceptions by game's end.

Utah took a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game. A 53-yard touchdown pass from Grady to Marquis Wilson capped a seven-play drive. The Utes threw a surprise in along the way by inserting Louks, who alternated snaps with Grady on two occasions during the series.

UCLA also scored on its first possession. The Bruins crept to within the Utah 15-yard line at one point before settling for a 45-yard field goal by Kai Forbath. The Utes forced the kick when defensive end Martail Burnett sacked Olson for a 7-yard loss on third-and-12.

The 7-3 score remained intact until midway through the second quarter. That's when UCLA capitalized on a Utah turnover — a fumble recovery by defensive end Tom Blake — to close the gap to one when Forbath connected on a 52-yard field goal.

The Bruins (2-1) never scored again. Saturday's loss was their first to the Utes in nine meetings.

Both teams return to conference play next weekend. UCLA hosts Washington in the Pac-10 and Utah visits Mountain West foe UNLV.

1 comment:

j said...

Just an amazing game, that didn't quite translate into the rest of the season. Due to a freak medical incident I ended up watching this game alone in the student section and just going out of my mind with each new amazing moment. Defintely RoJo's coming out party.