August 17, 2009

#3: November 6, 2008 - Utah vs. TCU

HOW IS IT GREAT? The morning before the game, the Salt Lake Tribune headlines declared this to be Utah's "Biggest Game Ever." It featured #10 Utah against #11 TCU.

Basically, the winner had the inside track for a BCS bowl bid and the MWC title.

One could possibly wax spiritual about what occurred at Rice-Eccles Stadium that night. It could be said that there was a special and hallowed spirit in the cool autumn air. The crowd, drenched in black, produced what seemed like a dreamlike atmosphere.

TCU got 10 quick points before anyone knew what had happened. I suppose everyone was still in awe over the blackout effect. But Utah started to come around, and whenever they needed a break or the big play -- they got it. As TCU would approach scoring position, Utah's defense would sack Andy Dalton for big losses, forcing them to punt. And when the Frogs finally did get into field goal range, the elements combined across that holy night to direct the ball away both times.

It was an incredibly tense, hard-fought, back-and-forth contest.

And it was completely surreal.

Then suddenly, out-of-nowhere, with 2:48 left in the game, something clicked for Utah.

And from that moment on, and continuing all the way through the rest of the season, the beatdown was on.

FURTHER READING:
Sweet article about what went on in the coaches box during the game.

• On-air exchange between Versus' play-by-play team following the game-winning drive:
Tom Hart: "This is a well-built stadium. This press box is shaking right now."

Dan Fouts: "Oh good, I thought it was my knees. You get a little excited when you see a great 80-yard drive engineered by Brian Johnson . . . "
WHAT THE PRESS HAD TO SAY:

BLACK MAGIC
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By Dirk Facer
Deseret Morning News
November 7, 2008

So much for 10th-ranked Utah's "blackout."

After a dramatic 13-10 come-from-behind win over No. 11 TCU, things brightened up considerably at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Fans, most dressed in black, stormed the field as the Utes improved to 10-0 and took sole possession of the Mountain West Conference lead.

And then there's the whole Bowl Championship Series thing. Utah is closing in on its second invitation in four years.

"We've still got two football games to go," quarterback Brian Johnson said after engineering a late, game-winning two-minute drive.

"This is nice to be 10-0, obviously, but I think the thing that we have to realize is there's a lot of work left to be done. It starts with beating San Diego State next week."

Johnson completed 7-of-9 passes in a final drive that lifted the Utes to victory Thursday night. A 9-yard scoring strike to Freddie Brown with 48 seconds remaining proved to be the difference.

It capped a drive that started with 2:48 remaining after TCU kicker Ross Evans missed the second of two field-goal attempts he had in the final 5:49. The freshman hit the left upright on a 26-yard kick three minutes before going wide right on a 36-yard try.

The latter gave Utah the ball and time to do something with it.

"We were very confident," Johnson said. "There was no panic when we got the ball back with a chance now to win it."

Even so, the Utes needed to convert on fourth down once along the way. They did so when Johnson teamed with Brown on a 15-yard reception with 1:24 to go.

Two plays later, the duo hooked up on the only touchdown Utah needed.

"You have to give Utah credit. They found a way to win the ball game," said TCU coach Gary Patterson. "Not taking anything away from Utah, (but) we missed two field goals and it's just one of those things. Utah plays well as a unit. They have guys who make plays."

While Johnson headlined the effort with his second successful two-minute drive for victory this season (Oregon State was the other), the Utes benefited from several key contributions.

Brown finished with a game-high nine receptions; kicker Louie Sakoda made two field goals; offensive lineman Dustin Hensel was credited for containing TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes; Sean Smith and Robert Johnson intercepted passes; and the Utah defense held TCU scoreless for the last three quarters.

"What can you say? I've been in Division I coaching a lot of years — 20-plus years — and I can't remember a time when a team showed more toughness, more grit, more determination and more character," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "You name it, they showed it. I'm extremely proud of our football team — the coaches and players. They hung in there. No one panicked.

TCU scored on its first two possessions to take an early 10-0 lead. The Horned Frogs used big plays on both drives.

A 52-yard pass from Andy Dalton to Bart Johnson helped set up the initial score, a 37-yard field goal goal by Evans.

TCU's next series included a 41-yard run by Aaron Brown. Four plays later, Ryan Christian ran three yards for a touchdown. Evans followed with the PAT to make it give Utah its first double-digit deficit of the season.

Less than nine minutes into the game, TCU held decisive advantages in total offense (141-20) and first downs (5-1).

Utah punted twice before embarking on its first scoring drive. The third time proved to be a charm. An eight-play drive ended with a 49-yard field goal by Sakoda.

After the offense closed the gap to 10-3 late in the first quarter, the defense made a big stop early in the second.

The Horned Frogs marched deep into Utah territory before running into trouble. On third-and-8 from the 22, they were knocked out of field-goal range when Dalton was sacked by Stevenson Sylvester and Kepa Gaison for a 13-yard loss.

Utah's defense continued to tighten throughout the remainder of the half. TCU's next two drives failed to net any positive yardage — minus-11 on the first and zero on the second.

A final sequence ended with an interception. Utah cornerback Sean Smith picked off a Dalton pass and returned it 37 yards to the TCU 43 with just 25.7 seconds left to play in the half. The Utes, however, had time to run four plays before turning to Sakoda once again. He responded with a 37-yard field goal as time expired to make it 10-6 at the break.

After giving up 202 yards in the first quarter, Utah's defense allowed just six in the second. TCU's defense was more consistent, holding the Utes to 60 and 59 yards over the quarters.

"It's not like we were playing the School of the Blind out there," Johnson said. "They do have the No. 2-ranked defense in the country. They did an unbelievable job."

When all was said and done, however, it was Utah's defense that won the biggest battle.

"TCU had a tough defense," safety Robert Johnson acknowledged.

"But in the end, the score tells it all."

Johnson ended TCU's final drive with a fourth-down interception on the Utah 15.

"We made a bunch of huge plays tonight," Whittingham said. "To watch these players hang in there, never quit and never give in ... I love coaching this football team."

The Utes, who are now 6-0 in conference play, can clinch at least a share of the league title with a win over San Diego State on Nov. 15.

TCU, meanwhile, fell to 9-2 overall and 6-1 in MWC play. The Horned Frogs close out their regular season next week at home against Air Force.

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