I'll admit, I was nervous for this game. Not because I didn't think Utah was capable of winning, rather nervous because I wasn't sure which Utah team would show up. Luckily, the team that won 4 of their last 5 showed up and Utah methodically dispatched a solid Tulsa team.
On the Utes first drive of the game they marched down the field rather well, getting into Tulsa territory before being forced to kick the field goal. Louie Sakoda's 45-yard kick easily sailed through the uprights and the Utes took an early 3-0 lead. A couple of defensive stops by both teams set up Tulsa's first scoring drive. They strung together multiple short passes and from second and goal Tarrion Adams found the end zone and the Golden Hurricanes went up 7-3.
Utah answered with another impressive drive, getting all the way down to the Tulsa's 22 before being thwarted once again on a touchdown possibility. Utah would kick yet another field goal and get within a point of Tulsa. The score would stay that way until the final seconds of the first half, where the Utes built a momentum changing scoring drive right before the half.
Forcing Tulsa to punt in Utah territory, Brett Ratliff took the field and quickly ushered Utah's offense into field goal range. A quick 4-yard pass from Ratliff to Brian Hernandez at the start of the drive was followed by another short 5-yard pass, this time to Bradon Godfrey. Ratliff followed that up with a solid 19 yard run and then threw his most impressive pass of the night. With the clock ticking down and Utah still about 24 yards out of field goal range, Ratliff found a streaking Maquies Wilson down the right side for a 24 yard gain. That set up a 41-yard field goal by Sakoda as time expired in the first half. With the kick Utah took the lead and would not relinquish it the rest of the game.
The most exciting drive of the night for either team came by the Utes at the start of the second half. Ratliff once again moved the Utes' offense into Tulsa territory, but instead of being forced to kick a field goal yet again, Utah ran a flea flicker as Ratliff tossed the ball to Hernandez, who lateraled the ball to Brent Casteel for the 5-yard score. That play put the Utes up 16-7 and demoralized a Tulsa defense that already had struggled at stopping Utah's offense.
Sakoda would kick another field goal to put the Utes up 19-7 and it looked like Utah was well on their way to a dominate victory. Yet it wasn't that easy. In his first major mistake of the game, Ratliff threw an interception in Utah territory, which positioned the Golden Hurricanes for their first touchdown of the second half. And that's exactly what happened, as Paul Smith rushed into the end zone on 3rd and 1. Tulsa would miss the extra point and claw back into the game at 19-13. Then Eric Weddle took over.
Utah forced Tulsa to punt with 5:00 left in the game and began a drive that would eat clock, end in a score and dash any hope of a Tulsa comeback. It started fittingly enough with a 7-yard Weddle run and a important 3-yard run on 3rd and 1. Weddle continued forcing Tulsa's defense into small lapses, gaining just enough yards to sustain the drive. It ended, just as it started, with Weddle touching the ball and waltzing into the end zone untouched. With 2:00 left and Utah up 25-13, the Utes' sixth straight bowl victory was pretty much in hand. But Weddle wasn't done just yet, as he intercepted Paul Smith's final pass as time expired. The pick, which most definitely would have resulted in 6 points for the Utes, was downed by Weddle in a pure classy move and the game came to a close. Utah wins 25-13, their fourth consecutive double digit bowl victory.
I had thought this game would be an offensive shootout, but was surprised to see Utah's defense pretty much dominate Tulsa's 22nd ranked passing offense. While Tulsa did score two touchdowns, one came on a short field after a Ratliff interception. They held Tulsa to 13 first downs, 158 yards passing and only 96 yards rushing. The most notable defensive stat of the night was the fact the Utes held Tulsa to only 2-11 on third downs. The Golden Hurricanes could only muster 254 yards on offense, compared to the Utes' 405 --165 on the ground and 240 through the air.
Ratliff had 240 yards on 23 of 34 passes and threw for one touchdown. Casteel was Utah's leading rusher with 66 yards, followed by Weddle and Ratliff with 56 and 31 respectively. With this victory, Utah runs their record to 8-5 and their bowl winning streak to 6 straight. If Boston College loses to Navy, the Utes will have the longest active streak in the country.