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2011 Sun Bowl Preview

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets vs Utah Utes

The last time the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Utah Utes met in a bowl game, Georgia Tech did not want to be anywhere near a football stadium. Six years later, we’ll see if the Yellow Jackets choose to respect their host bowl committee and play a postseason game with an appreciable amount of passion.

The day was December 29, 2005. Georgia Tech faced Utah at AT&T Park (then Pacific Bell Park) in San Francisco. Throughout the week of pre-bowl functions, Georgia Tech players openly complained about having to play on the West Coast, far from their Atlanta home. Tech went just 7-5 in the 2005 regular season, which meant that the Jackets could not have expected a cozy bowl arrangement, but that didn’t stop quarterback Reggie Ball and other players from mouthing off. Georgia Tech was felt by many to be the better and more talented team, but as is so often the case in bowl games, the team that wanted to play is the team that won. A motivated Utah squad under then-first-year coach Kyle Whittingham spilled the tank. The Utes raced by the disinterested Yellow Jackets, so much so that Utah receiver Travis LaTendresse caught 16 passes for 214 yards in a 38-10 romp for the sons of Salt Lake City. Whittingham is still the head coach of the Utes, and he’ll probably sell his players on the importance of playing this game with a maximum of fire.

However, the real challenge in the 2011 Sun Bowl rests with the school whose football team went AWOL in the 2005 Emerald Bowl. Georgia Tech is once again making a long trip from home. Atlanta to El Paso is more than a stone’s throw. What’s unique about this game relative to the 2005 Emerald Bowl is that Georgia Tech now has a different offensive style. The Jackets were a pro-set team in 2005, but they now run the triple-option offense under new coach Paul Johnson. Georgia Tech is once again the more talented team than Utah, but its approach to football is fundamentally different. Utah’s defense will get a month to prepare for the triple option, but if Tech can still execute, it’s hard to see how the Utes will stay in the ring.

The bigger concern for Utah – which doubles as the most important difference from 2005 – is its offense. Six years ago, the Utes could throw the ball, but this year, they’ve utterly failed to push the ball down the field under quarterback Jon Hays, who has filled in for an ineffective Jordan Wynn. Utah tumbled in an embarrassing season finale against Colorado. The 17-14 loss gave Colorado its first road win in four years. Giving away a game like that will make Utah more motivated for the Sun Bowl, but that setback also exposed the Utes’ deficiencies.

In many ways, for all of Georgia Tech’s transitions and transformations over the past six years, the 2005 Emerald Bowl bottom line will still apply to the 2011 Sun Bowl: Will Georgia Tech play with a maximum of energy? If so, Utah won’t replicate its fun bowl experience near the San Francisco Bay.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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