EL PASO, Texas — Rise or set? The Sun Bowl will provide an answer for the Utah Utes.
A victory over Georgia Tech would leave them beaming. Besides providing a nice bounce back from last month's disappointing loss to Colorado and restoring luster lost in last year's bowl setback to Boise State, the Utes could give their seniors and offensive coordinator Norm Chow a feel-good farewell.
Consequently, a loss to the Yellow Jackets would cap the program's inaugural season as a Pac-12 team with back-to-back losses and a 7-6 record in an injury-riddled campaign.
"I think everyone kind of has a sense of what this game means," said right tackle Tony Bergstrom. "I think we've got it taken care of."
Bergstrom is part of a senior group that is just one win away from equaling the school record set by last year's class with 41 career victories.
Then there's the Chow angle. The Utes are eager to send Hawaii's new head coach out on a winning note.
Chow, though, is downplaying such motivation.
"This is all about Georgia Tech, all about the Sun Bowl and all about these young people at the University of Utah. No question about that," he said. "It's important that we win this ballgame for the program, for the coaches, for the returning players and for all of the Utah players that have gone on before."
Before falling to Boise State last December in Las Vegas, the Utes were on quite a bowl roll. They had won nine consecutive postseason games.
Streak was the word this season. Utah opened its first Pac-12 season with four consecutive conference losses, but followed with four straight wins before the surprising setback to Colorado.
Getting back on a winning track is something the Utes are obviously eager to do.
Chow noted that nothing else really matters.
"If you're a competitor, you're excited about every opportunity," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "So whether it's the Sugar Bowl or whatever bowl, you've got to be in the right mindset and get yourself ready to play."
It won't be easy.
Georgia Tech's spread option presents a variety of challenges. Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake noted it's a scheme Utah didn't expect to face again with Air Force off the schedule.
"When it comes down to it, you have to defend all 11 guys on the field and that's always a challenge," Sitake said. "Then you're playing against a team like Georgia Tech that has a lot of great athletes, you know, at all the different positions. It's going to be a huge task for us."
Quarterback Tevin Washington is a dual threat for the Yellow Jackets. He leads the team with 1,515 yards passing and 890 rushing. The latter is part of the headline statistical matchup. Georgia Tech enters the game with the nation's No. 3 rushing offense (316.83 ypg). Utah counters with the No. 7 rushing defense (97 ypg).
"The offense they run is indeed difficult to stop. We've been working on it for 15 practices now," Whittingham said. "We line up and get our assignments down, but we cannot duplicate the speed or the precision with which they run that offense. So we've got a big challenge ahead of us."
Defensive end Derrick Shelby isn't concerned about the statistical matchup. The senior is looking at the big picture.
"There's more to football than numbers," Shelby said. "You never know what could happen."
Utes on the air
Sun Bowl: Utah (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (8-4)
Saturday, noon MT
El Paso, Texas
TV: CBS Radio: 700 AM
Email: [email protected]