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Associated Press
Utah players take the field for warm-ups for the Sun Bowl NCAA college football game against Georgia Tech on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/El Paso Times, Victor Calzada)

EL PASO, Texas — Utah staggered out of the the locker room at halftime of Saturday's Sun Bowl like a tipsy cowboy through the swinging doors of an old El Paso saloon.

After a horrible third quarter, the Utes spent the rest of the game playing catch-up against one of the top rushing teams in the nation.

But a stingy defense did its job in the fourth quarter and Utah climbed back into things with a couple of late plays by quarterback Jon Hays, and eventually won the game, 30-26, in overtime on an 8-yard run by John White IV.

OFFENSE: Hays isn't so good when under a heavy pass rush. He struggles on the slant pass. He's not much of a scrambler, but the kid can throw the fade pass, and his fade late in the fourth quarter tied the game when Georgia Tech inexplicably left Devonte Christopher in man coverage on the outside. White was solid, but didn't get near enough touches (he averaged nearly five yards a carry). But Utah had only 306 yards in regulation? GRADE: C+

DEFENSE: There were times in the game when the Yellow Jackets offense sliced through Utah's defense like a hot knife through butter. But the Utes stiffened in the fourth quarter and overtime when it absolutely had to. Brian Blechen was very quiet in the game, but Chaz Walker and Star Lotulelei really stepped up. GRADE: B

SPECIAL TEAMS: At least one game ball should go to Utah punter Sean Sellwood, who boomed deep punts one after deep one into the El Paso evening. Sellwood gave Georgia Tech long fields all game and averaged 49.5 yards per punt, dropping a pair of them inside the 20. Coleman Peterson kicked his only field goal through (GT missed three). The biggest play of the day may have been Griff McNabb's long punt return that set up the tying score in the fourth quarter. GRADE: A

COACHING: The coaching staff deserves props for late-game management with the clock and the players. But it's hard to understand why White didn't have more touches early in the game. White was used as mostly as decoy in the first half. Look to overtime (16 yards, the winning TD run) to see why he deserved more opportunities. GRADE: C+

OVERALL: In a game where White became the all-time single-season rushing leader, the Utes fought for dear life against an impressive option attack — and won. Utah was out-gained 449-335 and the Utes struggled for most of the game to stop Georgia Tech fullback Preston Lyons. But in the end, a banged up Lyons was stuffed and Utah made the comeback. It was everything a bowl game should be. GRADE: B

Andy Griffin is a southern Utah broadcaster and sports writer and has been involved in covering sports in Utah, including professional, college and high school sports, since 1989.