Utah needed a late-season surge to reach a bowl game in its first Pac-12 season. There is no reason to think that the Utes will not carry that momentum forward when they face Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31.
Utah and Georgia Tech are going in opposite directions, and there are several factors that favor the Utes in their first-ever Pac-12 bowl game.
1. Utah knows how to win bowl games
Before last season's 26-3 debacle against Boise State in Las Vegas, Utah had reeled off nine straight bowl game victories, including a pair of BCS bowl wins over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl. There were a couple of mediocre Ute teams in that stretch, but they still found a way to get it done at season's end. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, has lost six straight bowl games since 2004. The Yellow Jackets are more prone to end a season with a thud.
2. This is a familiar scenario for the Utes
Utah and Georgia Tech previously met back in the 2005 Emerald Bowl. Circumstances for the Utes were similar. Their starting quarterback, Brian Johnson, went down with a season-ending injury and the offense was turned over to lightly regarded JC transfer Brett Ratliff. Utah squeaked into the bowl game with a 6-5 record and blasted Georgia Tech 38-10. Flash forward to 2011. The Utes are being led by JC transfer Jon Hays after a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Jordan Wynn. Utah needed a long winning streak just to get bowl eligible, and comes in with a mediocre 7-5 record. Deja vu indeed.
3. Utah has one of the nation's best rushing defenses
The Utes allow just 98.3 yards per game on the ground, which is seventh best among all FBS schools and second to Stanford in the Pac-12. Georgia Tech does rank fourth in rushing offense with 316.8 yards per game, but it is a tall order to generate that sort of yardage on a defense built to stop the run.
4. The Utes are familiar with the option
Kyle Whittingham and his staff know how to prepare for the triple option. The players are all familiar with how to defend the triple option. Why? They all spent many seasons in the Mountain West Conference defending Air Force's triple option offense. Success in shutting down the Falcons is reflected in the fact that Utah has won seven of its last eight games against Air Force.
5. Utah dominated teams outside the Pac-12 this season
The Utes struggled at times in league play. They were a different team in the non-conference portion of their schedule. Utah beat BYU, Pittsburgh and Montana State by a combined score of 107-34. None of those teams ever threatened to make it a game past halftime. In the case of Pitt and BYU, both teams turned the ball over repeatedly going against Utah's defense.
John Coon graduated from the University of Utah in 2004 and covers their sports teams from time to time as a freelance sports writer.