Utah Utes football: Storybook season: How did the Utes get from 0-0 to 13-0? Let us remind you

Published: Friday, Jan. 16 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Utah's Sean Smith (4), Justin Taplin-Ross (33) and Dustin Hensel (65) celebrate as the University of Utah defeats then No. 24-ranked Michigan Wolverines, 25-23.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

It'll go down as the most successful season in University of Utah football history — a school-record 13 wins, a 31-17 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome and a No. 2 national ranking.

The Utes, who received 16 first-place votes in the final AP top 25 poll, concluded the campaign as the only unbeaten team in the country with the nation's longest active streaks in terms of overall wins (14) and bowl victories (8).

And there's more — an outright Mountain West Conference title and a second trip in five years to the exclusive Bowl Championship Series.

Individual accolades include All-American recognition for kicker/punter Louie Sakoda, who also picked up his third MWC Special Teams Player of the Year award; Brian Johnson as the league's Offensive Player of the Year; and Kyle Whittingham as the top coach.

"It's been a storybook season," Whittingham said after the Sugar Bowl.

The story — a successful quest for perfection, if you will — had 13 distinct chapters.

A look back at how Utah made headlines:

Game 1: Aug. 30

Rocking the Big House

Utah 25, Michigan 23

Michigan Stadium (108,421)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For the better part of three quarters, Utah made itself at home in the Big House. The Utes held a 25-10 lead with less than nine minutes remaining.

That's when Michigan made things uncomfortable for their guests.

The Wolverines climbed back into contention by blocking a punt and recovering a fumble. Both turnovers led to a pair of touchdowns for Michigan. A failed 2-point conversion attempt on the second score proved to be the difference in the season opener for both teams.

"I'm very proud of our guys and the way they hung in there," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "This house got rocking."

The Utes, however, responded to the adversity.

"It was gut-check time," Whittingham said. "And we had to have some guys step up."

Knocking off the 24th-ranked team in the coaches poll on the road left the Utes in a festive mood.

"Words can't explain how I feel right now," cornerback Sean Smith said as he walked off the field. "The defense came out clicking and the offense was clicking. It was great to come out and get a win in the Big House."

The Utes inflicted most of their damage in the first half, holding a commanding 313-102 advantage in total offense yardage.

Contributions were plentiful.

Quarterback Brian Johnson led the way with 305 yards passing, 253 in the first half.

Louie Sakoda tied a school record by making four field goals. When things got tight down the stretch, the All-American had a 50-yard punt that wasn't returned to bury Michigan deep in its own territory.

Whittingham said another key was the play of the offensive line against the Wolverines' experienced defensive front.

"To me that was the most critical match-up in the game," he explained. "I think our guys held their own."

Game 2: Sept. 6

Doubled up

Utah 42, UNLV 21

Rice-Eccles Stadium (45,587)

SALT LAKE CITY — It took a little while for Utah to warm up, but when the 22nd-ranked Utes did they pulled away and avenged last season's loss to UNLV.

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