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2008-2009 Sugar Bowl Preview

#4 Alabama (12-1, 8-0 SEC) vs. #6 Utah (12-0, 8-0 Mountain West)

January 2, 2009 @ 7:00 PM (EST) – FOX – New Orleans, LA



Alabama Crimson Tide - Southeastern Conference  

Last Bowl Appearance: 2007 Independence Bowl vs. Colorado (W 30-24)
Coach: Nick Saban (19-7 at Alabama, 125-66-1 overall)
Bowl Record: 1-0 at Alabama, 4-5 overall
Offensive Coordinator: Jim McElwain
Defensive Coordinator: Kevin Steele
Big Wins: 9/27 at Georgia (41-30), 11/8 at LSU (27-21)
Losses: 12/6 vs Florida (20-31)


Statistical Leaders for the Crimson Tide:

  • Rushing: Glen Coffee, RB, 1,377 yards
  • Passing: John Parker Wilson, QB, 2,096 yards
  • Receiving: Julio Jones, WR, 847 yards
  • Tackles: Rolando McClain, LB, 91
  • Sacks: Brandon Deaderick, DE, 4.0; Bobby Greenwood, DE, 4.0
  • Interceptions: Rashad Johnson, S, 5

Heading into the 2008 season there was little doubt that Alabama had a talented team. However, it is a very young group and a group that lost their final four regular season games in 2007 before backing their way into the Independence Bowl. But the second year in a program has been good to Coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide passed test after test to end the regular season undefeated with a shot at the national championship. The loss to Florida in the SEC Championship game put an end to any national title hopes, but going to a BCS Bowl is still pretty impressive with such a young team.


Strengths for the Tide:
The Alabama defense only gave up more then 20 points in a game twice during the regular season, 30 to Georgia and 21 to LSU. Seven opponents were held to ten points or fewer. The Tide’s dominating defense starts with the muscle on the line. There are no superstars on the d-line, but the starting trio of ends Brandon Deaderick and Bobby Greenwood and tackle Terrence Cody are all upperclassmen. If there is a star on the defense it is sophomore Rolando McClain. He was the only experienced linebacker coming into the season and he ran with that role and took over the leadership job. Players like Brandon Fanney and Dont’a Hightower have done a great job complimenting McClain in the linebacker corps, but this is McClain’s team…at least on the defensive side of the ball. The production of the front seven has made life pretty easy for the defensive backs and that was important early in the year when the young group needed time to adjust to their roles on the team. But by the end of the year players like Rashad Johnson, Justin Woodall, Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson have stepped into their own and are more than just quality players in the secondary.


Alabama's Weaknesses:
It is not like the offense is bad. Alabama has the second best ground game in the SEC led by running backs Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram. And Julio Jones is one of the best receivers in the nation…and he is just a true freshman. The problem is in the passing game where Alabama has consistently struggled. John Parker Wilson has only thrown for 2,096 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games. Even having a talent like Jones to throw to does not help that much. The longest pass play on the season is a mere 40 yards. What happens when the team gets behind and Wilson has to start making plays? But with the good running game, the Crimson Tide rarely needs Wilson to take to the air. The team can eat up clock better than just about any team in the nation and the plan is always to play great defense and limit the opportunities the opposition has to score. It may not be the most exciting brand of college football, but it has worked for a long time and has worked this year for Coach Saban.


2008 Team Stats:

  • Rushing Offense: 196.46 (23 rd in nation, 2nd in SEC)
  • Passing Offense: 170.69 (96, 8)
  • Total Offense: 367.15 (56, 6)
  • Scoring Offense: 31.15 (30, 3)
  • Rushing Defense: 78.85 (4, 1)
  • Pass Defense: 178.08 (21, 6)
  • Total Defense: 256.92 (3, 1)
  • Scoring Defense: 13.00 (6, 2)
  • Turnover Margin: .62 (22, 2)
  • Sacks: 1.85 (61, 9)
  • Sacks Allowed: 1.31 (22, 4)


Utah Utes - Mountain West Conference

2008 Record: 12-0, 8-0
Last Bowl Appearance: 2007 Poinsettia Bowl vs. Navy (W 35-32)
Coach: Kyle Whittingham (36-14 at Utah, 36-14 overall)
Bowl Record: 3-0 at Utah, 3-0 overall
Offensive Coordinator: Andy Ludwig
Defensive Coordinator: Gary Andersen
Big Wins: 11/6 TCU (13-10), 11/22 BYU (48-24)
Bad Losses: none


Statistical Leaders for the Utah Utes:

  • Rushing: Matt Asiata, RB, 671 yards
  • Passing: Brian Johnson, QB, 2,636 yards
  • Receiving: Freddie Brown, WR, 775 yards
  • Tackles: Mike Wright, LB, 74
  • Sacks: Paul Kruger, DE, 7.5
  • Interceptions: Sean Smith, CB, 5

Say what you will about Utah playing in the Mountain West Conference and how the team does not have to play tough competition week in and week out, the fact is the Utes have played some quality opponents and have not lost a game all year. This is a group that has beaten Michigan, Oregon State, TCU and BYU and survived some tough road trips to places like Air Force and New Mexico. Maybe Utah would have a worse record if they played in a BCS conference, but Coach Kyle Whittingham’s squad certainly has the talent to hang with the big boys in the BCS.


Utah's Strengths:
The Mountain West Conference is not full of big scoring teams, but Utah’s defense still has done a magnificent job. The unit has given up just 17.25 points per game and a large part of that success is due to defensive ends Paul Kruger and Koa Misi. Kruger has tallied an impressive 7.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles-for-loss. Misi’s numbers are not as good, but he is a dangerous pass rusher and a big hitter who will make the opposition pay if they concentrate on Kruger too much. The rest of the Utes defense has some solid players like linebackers Stevenson Sylvester and the years leading tackler, Mike Wright. On the other side of the ball, quarterback Brian Johnson has had a good senior season. He is not making too many mistakes and has thrown for 29 touchdowns. Johnson’s passing attack has improved in part due to a bevy of talented and experienced wide receivers. Freddie Brown, Brent Casteel and Brandon Casteel are all seniors who accounted for 1,802 yards and 13 touchdowns during the regular season.


Weaknesses for the Utes:
As good as the quarterback and receivers have been there has been a lack of consistency with the offense. It was not until the last two games of the regular season when Utah dropped 63 points on San Diego State and 48 points on BYU that the offense really clicked. The prior two games the Utes scored a total of 26 points. The passing offense ranked fourth in the conference and the rushing offense finished fifth. In the Big 12 that would be really good, but that is not the case in the MWC. Matt Asiata and Darrell Mack are solid backs who have split carries this year, but the entire offense could have trouble against a quicker, stronger opponent…especially if consistency becomes an issue once again. The problem on the defensive side of the ball is in the secondary. Corners Brice McCain and Sean Smith have done a great job against conference opponents, but going up against bigger, faster and stronger receivers than they are used to might lead to some big plays for the opposition.


2008 Utah Team Stats:

  • Rushing Offense: 168.42 (41st in nation, 5th in MWC)
  • Passing Offense: 236.83 (41, 4)
  • Total Offense: 405.25 (31, 3)
  • Scoring Offense: 37.42 (15, 1)
  • Rushing Defense: 104.83 (14, 2)
  • Pass Defense: 191.08 (40, 3)
  • Total Defense: 295.92 (18, 2)
  • Scoring Defense: 17.25 (12, 2)
  • Turnover Margin: .92 (16, 3)
  • Sacks: 1.75 (71, 3)
  • Sacks Allowed: 1.92 (63, 8)


Sugar Bowl Pick: Alabama 21 - Utah 7


by Joel Welser Senior Staff Writer

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