Utah Utes football: Sugar high — 13-0 Utes roll over one of the BCS' best

Published: Saturday, Jan. 3 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

NEW ORLEANS — It doesn't get any sweeter than this for the Utah Utes.

Besides winning the 75th anniversary Sugar Bowl, Friday night's 31-17 win over Alabama in the Louisiana Superdome capped a 13-0 season for the Utes. They finished the season as the only undefeated team in the nation.

"This is the best," said quarterback Brian Johnson. "We're the best team in the country."

Johnson was named the game's Most Outstanding Player after completing 27-of-41 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns.

"All we heard is how they were the better team. It was all about Alabama," he added. "Nobody thought we could do it. The national pundits, no one. We believed in ourselves."

In defeating the heavily favored Crimson Tide, the Utes extended two of college football's longest active winning streaks. They've now won 14 consecutive games overall dating back to last season and extended their run of bowl victories to eight straight.

"I love coaching these guys," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "It's been a storybook season."

One, he believes, that is worthy of national championship consideration.

"I think so," said Whittingham. "But it's not up to me."

The Utes' second successful Bowl Championship Series appearance in five years led to a postgame celebration on the field of the massive facility. Thousands of Utah fans cheered from the stands.

"This feels great. It's a dream come true. We could not ask for anything else," said wide receiver Bradon Godfrey. "I think we gained some respect for our conference, and this is quite an accomplishment for the Mountain West Conference. No one gave us a chance."

The underdogs, however, found a way to get it done.

"I have to give a lot of credit to the Utah team," said Alabama coach Nick Saban. "They played an outstanding game."

Defense played a big role, with the Utes recording eight sacks and holding run-oriented Alabama to just 31 yards on the ground in defensive coordinator Gary Andersen's final game before he begins full-time service as Utah State's head coach. Robert Johnson had two interceptions.

"An unbelievable victory. It's the best team I've ever been around in my life," said Andersen. "This crew, the way they've won football games, is unbelievable."

The Tide turned a bit on the first play of the second half. That's when Brian Johnson fumbled the ball on a team sack by Alabama and it was recovered on the Utah 30 by defensive end Bobby Greenwood. It took just over three minutes for the Crimson Tide to cash in, scoring a touchdown on a 4-yard toss from John Parker Wilson to Glen Coffee.

With their lead cut to 21-17, the Utes retaliated when they got the ball back. Brian Johnson and David Reed teamed for a 28-yard TD pass to match Alabama's score.

This time, the 11-point gap held firm. In fact, Utah's lead even grew.

The Utes added a 28-yard field goal by Louie Sakoda with 2:49 remaining. The kick allowed them to match Florida's output in the SEC title game for the most points allowed by Alabama this season.

Utah jumped out to a 21-0 advantage in the first quarter.

After forcing Alabama to punt on the game's initial series, the Utes used a no-huddle offense and five consecutive completions by Johnson to take an early lead. A 7-yard scoring strike to Brent Casteel, who dove into the end zone near the left sideline, capped off a sequence that included receptions by Jereme Brooks, Darrell Mack, Bradon Godfrey and Freddie Brown, who finished the game with 12 catches for 125 yards.

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