Utah shows it belongs in BCS

Posted: Sunday, January 02, 2005


  Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko evades Utah's Jonathan Fanene (91) in the second quarter at the Fiesta Bowl, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2005, in Tempe, Ariz. AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac

Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko evades Utah's Jonathan Fanene (91) in the second quarter at the Fiesta Bowl, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2005, in Tempe, Ariz.

AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac

TEMPE, Ariz. — Utah looked like a powerhouse that deserved a better final test to its BCS-busting season.

The fifth-ranked Utes, behind the cool efficiency of Alex Smith, used their baffling spread offense and an underrated defense to dominate 19th-ranked Pittsburgh 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday night.

Utah was a 16-point favorite, the biggest margin of any of the bowls, and it was a safe bet.

Smith completed 29 of 37 passes, four of them for touchdowns, for 328 yards and the Utes sacked Pitt's Tyler Palko nine times, a Fiesta Bowl record.

Smith, a Heisman Trophy finalist who is considering going to the NFL after this, his junior, season, also rushed 15 times for 68 yards.

Paris Warren caught 15 passes, breaking the Fiesta record of 11 set by Kellen Winslow of Miami in the 2003 national championship loss to Ohio State.

Warren, who transferred from Oregon in 2002, had 198 yards receiving, third-most in Fiesta Bowl history. Smith's 78 percent completion rate was also a Fiesta Bowl mark.

''It doesn't get any better than this,'' Warren told the boisterous Utah supporters at the postgame awards ceremony.

Smith and Warren shared the offensive MVP award, and Utah nose guard Steve Fifita was named the defensive MVP.

Meyer punctuated two memorable years in Salt Lake City with the Utes' first unbeaten, untied season since 1930. He leaves for Florida after making Utah the first team from outside the six BCS conferences to force its way into a Bowl Championship Series game.

''This is the best group of young men I've ever been around,'' Meyer said. ''It's going to be hard to say goodbye, but we're saying goodbye 12-0.''

Tens of thousands of Utah fans who made up at least three-fourths of the sellout crowd of 73,519 were not disappointed.

Utah scored touchdowns on five of its first seven possessions, including all three in the third quarter.

Out of a dizzying array of formations, the Mountain West Conference champs kept the Panthers off balance all night with everything from option plays to a handful of shovel passes. The Utes set up one touchdown with a reverse and scored another on the old ''hook-and-ladder'' play.

On that play, Smith threw to Steve Savoy, who flipped the ball to Warren. Warren dashed 18 yards for the score, capping a 10-play, 94-yard drive, to put the Utes up 35-7 with 25 seconds left in the third quarter.

Pitt (8-4) was overmatched in its final game under coach Walt Harris, who is leaving for Stanford after eight seasons with the Panthers. Pittsburgh was the unwanted team among the eight BCS squads. The Panthers automatically qualified for one of the four elite games as Big East champions, even though they were only 21st in the BCS rankings.

''They are a very good, very explosive team, and it was a tough game for us,'' Harris said. ''We did not match up physically as well as we needed to in order to stay in it, especially offensively.''

Dave Wannstedt, who resigned this season as coach of the Miami Dolphins, has been hired to replace Harris.

As the BCS buster with a huge following, Utah was welcomed by the Fiesta Bowl organizers, but they had no choice but to invite Pitt as the opponent.

Capital One Bowl

Iowa 30, LSU 25

ORLANDO, Fla. — Just when it looked as though coach Nick Saban would go out a winner at LSU, the Iowa Hawkeyes came up with a miracle finish.

Drew Tate threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Warren Holloway on the final play. The score capped a wild fourth quarter and spoiled a comeback by the Tigers, who overcame a 12-point deficit with 8 1/2 minutes left.

Saban, who will become the Miami Dolphins' coach next week, threw up his arms in frustration and then watched as the entire Iowa team mobbed Holloway in the end zone.

LSU freshman JaMarcus Russell came off the bench to spark the rally by throwing two touchdown passes. When he hit Skyler Green for a 3-yard score, the Tigers led 25-24 with 46 seconds to go.

Gator Bowl

No. 17 Florida State 30, West Virginia 18

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida State overcame mistake after mistake to avoid an unprecedented third straight bowl loss. Coach Bobby Bowden, facing his former school for the first time since the 1982 Gator Bowl, moved within one bowl win of Joe Paterno's NCAA record of 19 at Penn State.

Leon Washington ran for 195 yards and Chris Rix crafted two long second-half touchdown drives. Rix played poorly for much of his final game of an up-and-down career. Bowden's first four-year starter at quarterback fumbled three times and threw two interceptions, one of which led to a touchdown.

But Bowden stuck with Rix and he eventually gave the Seminoles (9-3) a spark.

Rix completed five straight passes during a 90-yard drive, capped by his 14-yard TD pass to Craphonso Thorpe late in the third quarter. Thorpe leaped for the ball over Dee McCann in the right corner of the end zone for a 23-15 lead. It was only Rix's third TD pass of the season.

Cotton Bowl

No. 15 Tennessee 38, No. 22 Texas A&M 7

DALLAS — Rick Clausen looked nothing like the third-string quarterback he was most of the season, leading Tennessee to five touchdowns in just 2 1/2 quarters.

The Volunteers (10-3) had lost four of their last five bowl games, the last two by a combined 40 points. After never leading in either of those games, they made things different just seven plays into this one when Clausen's short pass to C.J. Fayton turned into a 57-yard touchdown.

Tennessee wound up with the most lopsided victory in its 45-game bowl history. The Vols came within 5:13 of their first bowl shutout since the last time they played the Aggies, way back in the 1957 Gator Bowl.

The rout was as much a result of the Volunteers playing perfectly as it was the Aggies self-destructing. For instance, A&M (7-5) lost only one fumble in its first seven games, but gave away four this time.

Outback Bowl

No. 8 Georgia 24, No. 16 Wisconsin 21

TAMPA, Fla. — One last victory for David Greene, the winningest quarterback in NCAA history.

Greene threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns in his last game for the Bulldogs (10-2), continuing his assault on the Southeastern Conference record book and adding victory No. 42 to his NCAA mark.

The senior from Snellville, Ga., has started every game since Mark Richt took over as Georgia's coach in 2001. He surpassed Peyton Manning's SEC and NCAA mark for career wins (39) this season and finished 17-1 against nonconference opponents.

Greene completed 19 of 38 passes, but was also intercepted twice after only throwing two during the regular season. Wisconsin's Andy Crooks returned the second pick 11 yards for a touchdown, and John Stocco's 2-point conversion pass to Jonathan Orr cut Georgia's lead to three points with 4:13 to go.

The Bulldogs didn't give the Badgers (9-3) a chance to get closer, driving to the Wisconsin 5 before taking a knee on successive plays to run out the clock. Thomas Brown gained 49 of his 111 yards rushing on the final drive.

The Bulldogs improved to 42-10 in four years under Richt, the second-best run for a Georgia senior class behind the 43-4-1 record compiled while winning a national championship and three straight SEC titles in the early 1980s. The victory gave Georgia at least 10 wins for the third straight season, one shy of the school record set from 1980-83.


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