Ranking the biggest bowl games in University of Utah history

Its old home week for the Utah football team as it heads down to a very familiar place to face an even more familiar opponent to make its first bowl appearance since 2011. While making a return to the Las Vegas bowl to square off against former Mountain West Conference foe Colorado State is a disappointment for some, it is a chance for the Utes to show what kind of strides the program has made since venturing into the Pac-12 conference.

This is the fourth appearance for the Utes in the Las Vegas bowl (including 2010 when it was called the Maaco Bowl), and their 18th bowl game appearance overall (19 if you count the 1946 Pineapple Bowl) with a record of 13-4 in the first 17 games, including 10 wins in the last 11 chances.

Now that we are just days away from the game, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a look at those previous games and rank which one was the best for the Utes.

Statistical information and MVP awards from UtahUtes.com and Sports-reference.com.

15. 1993 Freedom Bowl: Utah lost 28-21 to the USC Trojans to end the season with a 7-6 record for coach Ron McBride. USC jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead and looked to cost home with an easy win, but Utah scored three second half touchdowns to make the game interesting down the stretch.

Henry Lusk earned offensive MVP honors after catching six passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. Luther Elliss dominated the defensive side of the ball with five tackles for loss, including two sacks, according to UtahUtes.com.

Although the game wasn’t a success on the scoreboard, it was the first time that the Utes made it to back-to-back bowl games in school history. It was also a building block for the what the Utes would do in 1994.

14. 1992 Copper Bowl: In the first bowl appearance of the Ron McBride era, Utah lost 31-28 to Drew Bledsoe and the Washington State Cougars. While the Utes couldn’t keep Bledsoe from having a monster day, they had plenty of offensive power of their own. Frank Dolce completed 21 of 40 passes for 316 yards, including touchdown passes of 10 and 49 yards. Sean Williams was his favorite target on the day with seven catches for 127 yards and a score. Keith Williams led the ground attack for the Utes with 13 carries for 112 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown run.

Even though they got beat, just making it to the game was a huge feat for the Utes who hadn’t appeared in a bowl game since the 1964 Liberty Bowl.

13. 2006 Armed Forces Bowl: The Utes won their sixth straight bowl game with a 25-13 win over Tulsa. The Utah offense put up plenty of yards but had a hard time finding the end zone.  Thankfully, Louie Sakoda was there to make sure the Utes capitalized. He made all four field goal attempts to earn game MVP honors.

The best offensive showing came out of Brent Casteel who had seven carries for 66 yards and an 18-yard touchdown catch from Brett Ratliff.  The other touchdown was scored by Eric Weddle who was pulling double-duty.  He had rushed the ball 10 times for 56 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run to seal the deal.

Weddle also made a difference on defense with six tackles and an interception. Steve Tate came up big for the second year in a row with 10 tackles and a sack.

12. 2005 Emerald Bowl: Both sides of the ball put up dominating performances as the Utes destroyed the No. 24 ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 38-10 under first-year head coach Kyle Whittingham.

While Quinton Ganther had a nice showing with 22 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown, it was Brett Ratliff and Travis Latendresse who did most of the damage. Ratliff completed 30 of 41 passes for 381 yards and four scores. Latendresse recorded a career-high 16 catches for 214 yards, including touchdown receptions for 14, 23, 25 and 16 yards. The four touchdown catches gave him his only multiple touchdown performance in his last game for the Utes.

Eric Weddle earned the defensive MVP even though he had just three total tackles, but got the honor for his part in holding wide receiver Calvin Johnson to only two catches for 19 yards. Steve Tate also played well for the defense with 10 total tackles and an interception.

11. 2011 Sun Bowl: The last bowl appearance was a successful one as the Utes came back from a two touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter to off the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 30-27 in overtime.

Star Lotulelei earned game MVP honors after recorded six total tackles. The Utah defense also got a big performance from Chaz Walker who had 15 total tackles, including one for a loss.

John White carried the load for the offense with 25 carries for 115 yards, including the game winning 8-yard touchdown run in overtime. Jon Hays had a solid day in the passing game as well with 193 yards and three touchdown passes.

The game capped off a success first season in the Pac-12 and gave the Utes a ninth straight Bowl appearance.

10. 2007 Poinsettia Bowl: In a game where the Navy ground attack was nearly unstoppable, it was the Utes who scored four rushing touchdowns to outlast the Midshipmen 35-32.

Brian Johnson earned offensive MVP honors after completed 20 of 25 passes for 226 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown pass to Derrek Richards. He also had 11 carries for 69 yards and another score on the ground. Darrell Mack had a big game as well with 76 yards and two touchdowns rushing as well as four receptions for 31 yards.

Joe Dale was named defensive MVP after recording 12 total tackles and an interceptions. Paul Kruger also registered double figures in tackles with 10 to go along with a sack.

9. 2001 Las Vegas Bowl: In their second Las Vegas bowl appearance in three years, the Utes knocked off the USC Trojans 10-6. Utah used two things that fans are very accustomed to; the running game and great defense to send Pete Carroll home with a loss.

The Utah ground game accounted for 224 yards and a touchdown on 54 carries to dominate the time of possession battle. Adam Tate led the way with 23 carries for 103 yards and a 3-yard touchdown run while Dameon Hunter added 17 carries for 94 yards.

As good as the ground game was, the defense was even better.  Utah held the Trojans to just 151 yards of total offense, including a single yard in the run game and 12 first downs.

It would be the last bowl game that Ron McBride would coach as he improved his postseason Utah record to 3-3.

8. 2009 Poinsettia Bowl: After a heartbreaking overtime loss to the BYU Cougars in the last game of the regular season, Jordan Wynn and the Utes overcame an early deficit to beat California 37-27. The aerial attack was on full display for Utah as Wynn showed off his skills.

Cal took a 14-0 lead on a 36-yard touchdown run by Shane Vereen and a 31-interception return by Eddie Young, before the offense stormed back. The Utes scored 27 unanswered points behind three Wynn touchdown throws to give Utah a lead it would never relinquish. Wynn completed 26 of 36 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns.  His favorite weapons on the night were David Reed and Jereme Brooks.  Reed caught six passes for 103 yards while Brooks added seven catches for 76 yards and a score. Kendrick Moeai also had a nice showing with touchdowns on his only two receptions.

The defense got pressure all game long with four sacks and nine tackles for loss. Stevenson Sylvester led the charge with eight tackles and an interception return for a touchdown.

The win gave the Utes a 9-game bowl winning streak under three different coaches, including five under Kyle Whittingham.

7. 1999 Las Vegas Bowl: Utah used a late field goal to outlast the Fresno State Bulldogs 17-16 in their first trip to the Las Vegas Bowl. The Utes had a fantastic day rushing the football with 54 carries for 334 yards to go along with 214 yards in the passing game, but only found the end zone twice in the close win.

Mike Anderson had a huge performance with 34 carries for 254 yard, including touchdown runs of 34 and 5 yards.  He also gained 15 yards on his only reception. Cliff Russell was the main weapon in the passing game with five catches for 96 yards.

The reason the game is so memorable is because of the record-setting day by Anderson.

6. 2003 Liberty Bowl: In what could aptly be described as a turnover filled defensive struggle, the Utes handled Southern Mississippi 17-0. There were 10 total fumbles in the game, including six that changed possession as well as an interception.

The defense did most of the work as it held the Golden Eagles to just 3.1 yards per play (213 yards on 69 plays). The Utes also forced four fumbles, including one that Morgan Scalley recovered and took 74 yards for a touchdown.

Brandon Warfield had a nice showing for the offense with 27 carries for 91 yards, including the lone offensive touchdown on a 5-yard run late in the second quarter.

The win gave the Utes a 10-win season and showed us a glimpse of what they could accomplish under first-year coach Urban Meyer.

5. 1994 Freedom Bowl: After back-to-back bowl losses, the Utes finally found a postseason win when they knocked of the Arizona Wildcats 16-13 in a defensive slugfest. In fact, Utah totaled just 75 yards of total offense and five first downs.

Charlie Brown did more than half the damage with 16 carries for 44 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to tie the game at 7. The other Utah touchdown came on a 5-yard pass from Mike McCoy to Kevin Dyson to give the Utes the win.

The defense was led by Harold Lusk and Luther Elliss. Lusk had nine tackles and an interception while Elliss finished with six tackles and a sack, according to UtahUtes.com.

The win over Arizona was huge for so many reasons.  It was the first bowl win in 30 years, broke the school record with the 10th win on the season and propelled Utah to its first AP top 10 finish, according to Sports-reference.com.

4. 1964 Liberty Bowl: After a long hiatus from postseason play, the Utes made the most of their opportunity as they drilled West Virginia 32-6. Utah did most of its damage on the ground with 323 yards rushing, including 154 yards and a touchdown by Ron Coleman.

The defense held the Mountaineers to just 228 yards of offense and 12 first downs and recorded five interceptions on the day, according to UtahUtes.com.

What made the game one of the biggest in school history was because it was the first bowl win since the 1938 Sun Bowl and gave the Utes a school record nine wins.

3. 1938 Sun Bowl: The 1938 Sun Bowl saw the Utes knock off New Mexico 26-0. They dominated both sides of the ball with 366 yards of total offense while giving up just 153 on defense.

Utah scored three touchdowns on the ground, including a 15-yard run by Tom Pace, a 1-yard run by Ray Peterson and a 10-yard run by Clarence Gehrke. The defense also got a touchdown of its own when Peterson picked off a pass and took in back 60 yards for the score.

Although the Utes had three perfect seasons under Ike Armstrong (1926, ’29 and ’30), according to sports-reference.com, the victory over New Mexico gave the Utes their first bowl win in their first ever bowl appearance.

2. 2004 Fiesta Bowl: After an undefeated regular season, the Utes blasted the Big East Co-Champion Pittsburgh Panthers 35-7 to cap off a very memorable season.

Alex Smith and Paris Warren carried the load as the Utah offense had a field day through the air to share the offensive MVP award. Smith completed 29 of 37 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns to go along with 68 yards on the ground on 15 carries. Warren finished with 15 receptions for 198 yards, including touchdown catches of 23 and 18 yards. He also had one carry for 17 yards.

The defense also had a solid showing as it held the Pittsburgh rushing attack to 17 yards on 30 carries and recorded nine sacks. Steve Fifita was named the defensive MVP with five tackles and a sack.

The significance of the game still stands out today as the Utes became the first non-automatic qualifying school to play (and win) a BCS game.

1. 2008 Sugar Bowl: The shining moment in Utah Bowl game history (and quite possible football history all together), came as the Utes handled Alabama 31-17. The Utes got out to a fast start as they scored three touchdowns in the first 11 minutes of the game to jump out to a 21-0 lead.

Brian Johnson was the star on offense as he completed 27 of 41 passes for 336 yards, including touchdown passes of 7, 18 and 28 yards to earn the MVP. His favorite targets in the win were Freddie Brown and Bradon Godfrey. Brown had 12 catches for 125 yards while Godfrey totaled  six catches for 75 yards and a touchdowns. The other two touchdown passes were caught by Brent Casteel and David Reed.

Robert Johnson had a huge outing for the defense as he recorded three tackles and intercepted John Parker Wilson a pair of times.

The win propelled Utah to the first 13-win season in school history and a No. 2 ranking in the final AP poll.

 

 

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