Jackets Fall In Emerald Bowl
Dec. 29, 2005
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Although a whole new bunch of players and coaches are wearing Utah red, these Utes still can put on a phenomenal postseason show.
Travis LaTendresse caught 16 passes for 214 yards and four touchdowns, Brett Ratliff passed for 381 yards and the Utes rolled up 550 total yards in a 38-10 victory over No. 24 Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl on Thursday.
Quinton Ganther ran for 120 yards and added a 41-yard TD romp in the fourth quarter for the Utes (7-5), who finished their follow-up season to their 12-0 run through the Bowl Championship Series in 2004 with an offensive performance more than worthy of former coach Urban Meyer's sublime team.
Ratliff, who went 30-of-41, and LaTendresse, the game's offensive MVP, both set Utah bowl records with a superb afternoon of pitch-and-catch against the Yellow Jackets' bewildered secondary. First-year head coach Kyle Whittingham, Meyer's defensive coordinator, won his bowl debut in style.
LaTendresse, a senior from the Sacramento area who missed three late-season games with an ankle injury, seemed to be open all day while the Utes embarrassed the favored Yellow Jackets (7-5), who practically didn't show up to their ninth straight bowl appearance.
Each of LaTendresse's four TD catches of 14, 23, 25 and 16 yards came on simple post patterns down the middle.
Reggie Ball passed for 258 yards for Georgia Tech, which seemed disappointed to be so far from Atlanta for the postseason - and it showed. The Yellow Jackets' vaunted defense, ranked among the nation's leaders entering the game, was shredded and stomped by a backup quarterback and his speedy receivers for its season-high in yards allowed.
Cornerback Eric Weddle, the Mountain West Conference's top defensive player and the Emerald Bowl's defensive MVP, did a bit of everything for the Utes - running the ball, engineering a fake field goal as a holder, even throwing a terrible interception.
But Weddle was most valuable in his day job, limiting star Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson to two catches for 19 yards.
Despite the injury absences of quarterback Brian Johnson and top receiver John Madsen, the Utah offense was nearly flawless. Ratliff, the backup who led the Utes' overtime win over archrival BYU, made another case for a lively quarterback competition with Johnson and Oklahoma transfer Tommy Grady in spring ball.
Brian Hernandez, a junior who began his college career at Georgia Tech in 2002, added eight catches for 75 yards for Utah. The game essentially was decided early in the fourth quarter, and hundreds of fans from the pro-Utah crowd rushed the field afterward, lifting Ratliff and LaTendresse on their shoulders.
Utah opened with a drive befitting the nation's 12th-best offense, moving 76 yards in six plays capped by LaTendresse's 14-yard scoring grab. A similar drive later in the quarter ended with his TD catch between Georgia Tech defenders, and the Utes went up 20-0 on LaTendresse's third catch down the middle early in the second quarter.
Ball threw two interceptions in the first half - but one play after Shaun Harper's pick, the Utes got greedy with a 20-point lead. Weddle, who occasionally runs the ball on direct snaps for Utah's offense, threw a terrible long pass into triple coverage, and Dennis Davis intercepted.
Georgia Tech immediately drove for its first touchdown, with Ball hitting tight end George Cooper for a 31-yard score. The Utah offense struggled through the rest of the half, and the Yellow Jackets got within 20-10 with a 65-yard pass to Damarius Bilbo and a field goal shortly before halftime.
Utah faked a field goal inside the Georgia Tech 15 early in the second half, with Weddle running for a first down as the holder - but Ratliff threw an end-zone interception on the next play.
The Utes still put it out of reach with a 73-yard scoring drive early in the fourth quarter, with LaTendresse catching his fourth TD pass over the middle and running headfirst into a picture of Willie Mays on the left-field wall at SBC Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Utah made it 31-10 with a 2-point conversion - Ratliff to LaTendresse, of course.