The Utes will enter their fifth season in the Pac-12 this fall. Looking back, it’s amazing to see how far this program has come since the days in the WAC and Mountain West. While Ron McBride started the ball rolling in changing the culture around Utah football, it was Urban Meyer’s Fiesta Bowl team in 2004 that really signaled the beginning of a new era in Utah football. With that in mind, let’s look back at the top ten single game performances of the last ten years.
10. Travis Wilson vs. Oregon State September 14th, 2013
279 pass yards, 2 TD 3 INT, 142 Rush Yards 3 TD
This ranks last on the list due to the fact that Wilson tossed three interceptions and is the only performance on this list where Utah lost the game. However, Wilson gets his name on the board because he almost single handidly willed the Utes to victory in this game after being down by 17 in the third quarter. Wilson ran for three second half touchdowns in addition to throwing two touchdowns for a total of five touchdowns while throwing over 200 yards and rushing over 100 yards in a single game.
9. Nate Orchard vs. UCLA October 4th, 2014
11 Tackles, 4 TFL, 4 Sacks
Nate Orchard will go down as one of the all time greats on the defensive line for Utah. His performance against UCLA epitomized his season and career at Utah, as he harrassed UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley all night, tying the single game sacks record at Utah with four sacks, to go with four tackles for a loss and setting a career high of 11 tackles in a single game.
8. John White IV vs. BYU 2011 September 17th, 2011
22 carries, 174 yards, 3 TDs
This was Utah's first season in the Pac-12, they were coming off a tough loss to USC and were looking to prove themselves as a legitimate BCS school. Heading into Provo that September night, no one knew what to expect, with the team down south starting their newly appointed "savior" in Jake Heaps. Utah-BYU games had come down to the wire in recent years and Provo was a hostile environment. What ensued was a 54-10 beatdown by Utah that firmly showed Utah as the superior program. Little known junior college transfer John White IV erupted for 174 yards and three touchdowns showing he could (and would need to) carry the offense the entire year. This game was really the beginning for the "Wolfman"
7. Jordan Wynn vs. Cal December 23rd, 2009
26-36, 338 yards, 3 TDs 1 INT
Jordan Wynn was just a true freshman for the Utes when he took over midseason for Terrance Cain and provided a spark for the Ute offense. Wynn performed well for the Utes down the stretch closing the season out with a 4-2 record and appearing on the brink of a brilliant career for the Utes. Where he really shined however, was in the Poinsettia Bowl on national TV. Playing back in his old high school haunts, Wynn led the Utes to a 37-27 win over Cal in what would turn out to be his best game as a Ute.
6. Devontae Booker vs. Oregon State October 16th, 2014
32 carries, 229 yards, 3 TDs
Booker had already established himself as a dangerous back with 100+ yard performances against Washington St. and UCLA. His game against Oregon State though, is where Booker first put the team on his back and literally carried the Utes to victory. In a game where both offenses were struggling, Booker took it upon himself to secure the win rushing for a fouth quarter touchdown to give the Utes a late lead and two more in overtime, including the game winning touchdown. After two years of junior college, "Book Mode" had finally arrived.
5. Brett Ratliff vs. BYU November 19th, 2005
17-32, 240 pass yards 4 TDs, 112 rush yards, 1 TD
2005 was the first year as head coach for both Kyle Whittingham and his counterpart Bronco Mendenhall. Both were hoping to establish themselves as coaches and grabbing a victory in the Holy War was near the top of the to do list. Whittingham had turned down the head coaching gig at the BYU during the offseason, adding to rivalry. The Utes needed a win to become bowl eligible but entered the game as underdogs having lost both Brian Johnson and John Madsen the week prior. In stepped unknown JC transfer Brett Ratliff to answer the call. Ratliff came out of no where to throw for four touchdowns and run for another including the game winning touchdown in the first overtime game between the two schools. Ratliff used the game as a launching pad, as he would go on to lead the Utes to victory in the Emerald bowl and start the whole 2006 season.
4. Alex Smith vs. Texas A&M 2004 September 2nd, 2004
359 pass yards, 3 TDs, 76 rush yards 2 TDs
This was the game that kicked off the modern era for the Utah program. The Utes were coming off a 10-2 season in Urban Meyer's first year and were starting off the season ranked for the first time ever at #20. Alex Smith had taken the reins the year before starting 10 games and leading the Utes to a 9-1 record. While Texas A&M was not ranked, they were a big 12 team with a rich history coming into Rice-Eccles. Any doubt about how the game would go however, was answered in the first drive when Smith hit Steve Savoy for a 78 yard touchdown. The rout was on as Smith threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more and the Utes cruised to a 41.-21 victory.
3. Travis LaTendresse vs. Georgia Tech December 29th, 2005
16 catches, 214 yards, 4 TDs
The talk going into the Emerald Bowl was all about Georgia Tech's super human receiver Calvin Johnson. Then the game started. Travis LaTendresse turned in a monster game, completely up showing Megatron. LaTendresse was wide open all afternoon on his way to four touchdown receptions as the Utes dominated Georgia Tech 38-10. Calvin Johnson was held to just 19 yards on two catches by Eric Weddle.
2. Alex Smith vs. Pitt January 1st, 2005
29-37, 328 yards, 4 TDs
Alex Smith capped off his Utah career in the best way possible, leading the Utes to victory in their first BCS bowl game. The game was not even as close as the final 35-7 score indicated, with Utah dominating all phases of the game. Alex Smith finished the game completing 78% of his passes for over 300 yards and 4 touchdowns.
1. Brian Johnson vs. Alabama January 2nd 2009
27-41, 336 pass yards, 3 TDs
In what was the biggest game in Utah football history, Brian Johnson had the biggest game of his career throwing for 336 yards 3 touchdowns and no interceptions to lead the Utes to a 31-17 win Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. It was a long road for Johnson to get to this point having endured a severe knee injury, sitting out a year and being plagued by sometimes inconsistent play. However, on the big stage under the bright lights, Johnson delivered securing Utah their biggest win in school history and forever etching himself into Utah lore.
Let us know your list in the comments. Any performances I left out that should be included?