SALT LAKE CITY — After gritting out a 28-23 win at the Air Force Academy in 2010, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham let out a sigh with relief. The Utes' impending move from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12 would bring an end to facing the Falcons' triple-option attack.
"I'm glad that they are not on our schedule," Whittingham said at the time. "I'm telling (athletics director) Chris Hill he's a dead man if he ever puts these guys on our schedule."
Over 27 meetings, the overall point differential between the Utes and Falcons was just 24 points.
Hill, that day, acknowledged that facing such a challenging offense put a lot of gray hairs on everybody's head.
After 14 months of liberation, it's time to bring out the Grecian Formula again.
Utah's Sun Bowl opponent Georgia Tech has a high-powered triple-option offense. The Yellow Jackets rank third in the nation with 316.83 rushing yards per game. They also top the Atlantic Coast Conference in total offense (459.58 ypg) and scoring offense (34.92 ppg).
"They're very good," Whittingham said. "It should be a great matchup."
Utah's defense enters the Dec. 31 game ranked seventh in the nation against the run (97 ypg) and first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (19.67 ppg).
Facing the triple option, Whittingham acknowledged, is very ironic.
"That offense is a defensive coordinator's nightmare," he explained while recalling a conversation with defensive coordinantor Kalani Sitake about not having to play Air Force any more. "That's a big positive and right out of the gate in the bowl season we're back at it. But again, the experience we've had with the triple-option — facing Air Force every year — hopefully will be a plus for us in the bowl situation."
The option, Whittingham continued, is a little different animal than defending a standard run game.
"You've got to play assignment football. We call it 1/11th defense," he said. "Every defender has got to do his 1/11th. If there's any breakdowns you're looking at a big play against you."
Past preparation for Air Force and the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl against Navy, a team that Paul Johnson coached prior to taking the Georgia Tech job, should be beneficial.
"Definitely," said safety Brian Blechen. "The offenses have a lot of similarities and stuff."
The concepts are the same, noted linebacker Chaz Walker, but the Yellow Jackets block their plays a little bit different. The senior pointed out another difference. Georgia Tech's players are bigger, stronger and faster than those at the service academies, he said, although probably not as precise with their assignments.
"You've got to secure tackles. You've got to make plays and you've got to do your job. If one person doesn't do their job, they're capable of making big plays," Walker explained. "So we've got to make the play when it comes our way and we've got to do our job."
All-conference defensive end Derrick Shelby said the only difference is Georgia Tech will have bigger guys coming at the Utes.
"Getting out of the Mountain West I thought I'd get away from the triple option," the senior said with a laugh. "But it's only fitting I play them one more time before I get out of college."
EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham said Friday's practice went well. The Utes donned full pads. They'll take the field again this morning . . . Utah and Georgia Tech have only met once before with the Utes prevailing 38-10 in the 2005 Emerald Bowl . . . A fan guide is available at www.sunbowl.org.
2011 Hyundai Sun Bowl
Utah (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (8-4)
Dec. 31, noon
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