Utah came into the Pac-12 with an incredible bowl record, and outside of missing the post season twice, that bowl record has continued. The Utes will play Northwestern in their best bowl destination and opponent since joining the league in 2011, so I wanted to give a brief walk through memory lane of the Utes bowl games since joining the Pac-12.
2011 - Hyundai Sun Bowl vs Georgia Tech: Win 30-27 (OT)
Utah’s first season in the Pac-12 was full of ups and downs, and the Utes fought for bowl eligibility, and even a potential Pac-12 South championship, until the last week of the season. The Utes found themselves against the triple option in El Paso against Georgia Tech.
Utah came into the game with Jon Hayes, and things started out well for the Utes. They drove down the field and took an early 7-0 lead over the Yellow Jackets, and the Utes held a 10-7 lead over the Yellow Jackets at halftime. The Utes held GT really well in that opening half, after years and years of option experience with Air Force, Utah knew how to defend this attack. Things went a bit off the rails in the 3rd quarter, however, as GT racked up 17 points to Utah’s zero and took a 24-10 lead. For the game GT rolled up 312 rushing yards, with a sizable chunk of them coming in that 3rd quarter.
I know I, and I’m sure many Utah fans thought, the game was over after a pick six from Hayes at the end of the 3rd to give the Jackets the 24-10 lead. With how Utah’s offense had performed to this point, and playing against a team that could bleed the clock, no way the would be able to overcome two scores.
Utah had a nice drive with about 11 minutes remaining in the game, where they went 9 plays in 71 yards to pull to within a score. The Utes went back to Jon White, who had 115 yards on the day, and rolled over GT on that drive.
With about 2:21 left things were getting dicey, but Griff McNabb returned a punt for 31 yards to the GT 24 yard line, and seemingly the Utes were back in this ball game. Drama ensued with Utah basically going three and out, leading to a game deciding 4th down. On 3rd down, however, Devontae Christopher was obviously interfered with and there was no call. Offensive coordinator Norm Chow went back to Christopher on 4th and 14 down the left sideline, and Hays threw an awesome ball for the score and to tie the game.
Georgia Tech actually drove down the field for a game winning field goal from 48 yards out but missed it to force overtime.
In OT, the Utes forced GT to kick a field goal, and on 3rd and goal, John White took a draw and plowed into the end zone for the game winning TD, capping the comeback and Utah’s first bowl win as a member of the Pac-12.
2014 - Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl vs Colorado State: Win 45-10
After a two year absence from bowl season, the Utes found themselves in Vegas for their first Vegas Bowl since 2010. The Utes were taking on a high powered CSU team with some NFL talent on their offense. The Utes weren’t having any of it, as they blew the doors off CSU, the former MWC rival, to a score of 45-10.
The Utes got things rolling early, as they scored in just 56 seconds after forcing CSU into a three and out. The Utes came out swinging with a double pass down to Kaelin Clay for 36 yards down to the CSU 17, and a combo of Devontae Booker and Travis Wilson runs put the Utes up 7-0.
In Utah’s second drive, a six play 71 yards one for a score, Utah gave the ball to Troy McCormick who torched the Rams for 49 yards to set up Utah’s next score to take the 14-0 lead.
CSU did respond with a trick play of their own, to bring it to 14-7, but the Utes shrugged that off quickly as Booker took the next play 60 yards to give Utah the 21-7 lead... game was over at that point.
Utah did add three more scores in the second half, two runs by Travis Wilson and one by Bubba Poole.
The Utes rolled up 548 yards on the game, with 359 coming on the ground. Booker had 162, Wilson 91 and McCormick 86 as they ran all over CSU. The Utes held what was supposed to be a potent CSU offense to just 278 yards with a dominant defensive effort. It was a butt whooping from kick.
2015 - Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl vs BYU: Win 35-28
The bowl game matchup that most (at least many) Utah fans did not want. The Utes were as high as No. 3 in the polls during the season, and spend much of it ranked in or near the top 10, but because of bowl politics, they ended up playing a rivalry game in Vegas against BYU. Fortunately, the Utes put the game away in the first quarter, but not without some drama late in the game.
The Utes came into this game decimated by injuries. Booker was injured and out for the season after a knee injury against Arizona, plus Kenneth Scott and Britain Covey were barely able to walk but gave it a go.
BYU turned the ball over on their first five possessions and Utah turned all of those into touchdowns, including two pick-sixes to take a 35-0 lead in the first quarter of the game. Unfortunately, for the Utes that was the last of their scoring for the day. Freshman Tanner Mangum continued to serve up would-be interceptions and turnovers, but the Utes couldn’t capitalize further.
Utah’s offense struggled to move the ball and get first downs throughout the remainder of the game, but when they needed to salt the game away, the did just that. BYU had scored with 3 minutes remaining, and Utah needed to run out the clock to put the game away, and Joe Williams did just that.
Utah’s defense with Kylie Fitts, Tevin Carter, Domo Hatfield and others put in the heavy lifting in this one, to give the Utes the win.
2016 - Foster Farms Bowl vs Indiana: Win 26-24
Honestly, this may be the least memorable of all the bowl games that Utah has played since joining the league. The Utes had another late season collapse, and weren’t super enthusiastic about the bowl or the opponent. Sure, it’s a Big 10 team, but it’s Indiana, and bowl games in the Bay Area are a major pain.
Utah put up a respectable 470 yards, while holding Indiana to 341, but the work load was put on the shoulders of Joe Williams, who had 222 yards on a touchdown. We were also introduced to Tyler Huntley a bit more, as he had a single pass completion for 36 yards on a flea flicker, plus eight rushes for 23 yards and a touchdown.
The Utes actually came out and fumbled the opening kick off giving Indiana the ball in the red zone, and they were able to punch it in. Utah did counter with a field goal, in a season full of red zone failures.
While it wasn’t a performance like against UCLA, this game was a great capper for Joe Williams career at Utah, as he was a workhorse and played so well. After a fumble recovery by Utah in their own territory, Joe got the Utes in the end zone for the first time from 16 yards out giving them the 10-7 lead.
The defense bowed up, as they always do, and forced a fumble as Indiana was going to go in for a score, turning the tide of the game. The Utes went down the field in nine plays for 95 yards and put the ball in the end zone to give them the 17-7 lead. At this point I figured the game was over, but Utah couldn’t put the Hoosiers away.
The game for the Utes really came down to the foot of Andy Phillips, who in his last game kicked four field goals, including two that weren’t the prettiest but sealed the game for the Utes. He second to last one looked like a knuckle ball that was wide, then back in, then wide again, before coming back around and sneaking in through the left upright. The last one came after a 10 play drive of 68 yards, that spanned 4:10. Joe Williams continued to be the workhorse for the team, especially on a 3rd and 7 when the Utes called a draw play that he picked up 21 yards on. Utah couldn’t punch it in the end zone, maddeningly, but they were able to bleed some clock. Andy hooked one in, that again snuck past the left upright to give the Utes the 26-24 lead, which would end up being the final score.
2017 - Heart of Dallas Bowl vs West Virginia: Win 30-14
This game is right up there with the Foster Farms Bowl, pretty forgettable overall. The Utes snuck into the bowl season with a final week win over Colorado to setup a matchup against WVU, who was without their starting QB, and didn’t have a serviceable backup in a muddy game in Dallas.
Utah’s defense shut down the Mountaineers by giving up only 153 total yards, and they were just never an offensive threat in the game. The Utes pretty much put the game away early with a Zack Moss 58 yard rushing touchdown because of how inept WVU’s offense was. After a muffed punt by WVU, Utah got the ball on a short field and Tyler Huntley ran the ball in to give Utah a two score lead and it was really over at that point.
Julian Blackmon was the star on defense, as he picked up two picks, plus was in position for more and was named the bowl’s MVP. Matt Gay went 3-of-3 in field goals with makes of 29, 26 and 24 yards.
Utah’s defense actually help WVU out of the end zone until the Mountaineers came up with a meaningless touchdown and two point conversion with two minutes left in the game.
2018 - San Diego Credit Union Holiday Bowl vs. Northwestern: Monday at 5pm
It’s not the Rose Bowl, but the Holiday Bowl is a nice soft landing spot for the Utes. They will play in their highest profile bowl game since joining the league, against a fellow P5 division champ. It should be a fun game as the Utes go for another bowl win, and to get ready for what should hopefully be a big 2019.