by Christopher G. Shepard - 12/06/2005
Utah Utes (6-5, 4-4 MWC) v. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-4, 5-3 ACC)
No. 24 ranked Ramblin' Wreck looks to break the Utah Ute's four Bowl game win streak in the fourth annual Emerald Bowl at SBC Park in San Francisco, California on Thursday, Dec. 29 at 4:30 pm (EST). The Emerald Bowl will be nationally televised by ESPN.
This year's edition of the Emerald Bowl should be a study in contrasts as Utah brings in the nation's No. 12 ranked total offense against the swarming Yellow Jackets' No. 10 ranked total defense in the nation.
Ramblin' Wreck ended their season 7-4 overall and tied for third in the ACC with a 5-3 conference record while the Utes, undefeated in 2004 and Fiesta Bowl winner under Urban Meyer, ended this season 6-5 overall, including a 4-4 record in the Mountain West Conference.
The Utes are happy just to be invited to a Bowl this year. The fact that Alex Smith was drafted to the 49ers makes this trip to the Bay Area even sweeter for Utah considering the Utes lost starting sophomore phenom QB Brian Johnson to a knee injury and WR John Madsen with a broken ankle in their home loss to New Mexico this year.
Utah had to overcome the loss of Meyer, Smith and 11 other starters-including both kickers. It is not surprising the Utes started their season on shaky ground but ended its season on a positive note by beating arch-rival BYU in overtime and becoming bowl eligible as they finished the season with a 6-5 overall record. Utah rallied late in the year to win three of its final four games capping Kyle Whittingham's roller-coaster ride in his first year as a head coach. What made the win over BYU so remarkable was that it was on the shoulders of inexperienced back-up QB Brett Ratcliff.
Utah will have to continue to rely on their back-up QB and play at the top of their game as Chan Gailey's Yellow Jackets feature a solid defense that late in the season held Miami to 10 points and 2005 SEC Champion Georgia to 14 points. The Jackets' defense is led by all-ACC defensive end Eric Henderson, linebacker Gerris Wilkinson and safety Dawan Landry. Georgia Tech is No.10 in the nation in total defense, allowing 296.4 yards per game and feature the 11th ranked rush defense that has held opponents to an average of 98 yard per game. The Jackets are +0.82 in turnover margin which is good enough for 17th in the country.
Tech's triple threat offense will put pressure on the Utes base 4-3 defense led by 322 lbs 2005 Fiesta Bowl MVP senior NG Steve Fifita. The Yellow Jackets offense features game breaking WR, all-American Calvin Johnson. Johnson leads the Yellow Jackets this season with 52 catches for 869 yards and six touchdowns (one less than last year). Two years ago in the Humanitarian Bowl, Georgia Tech tailback P.J. Daniels set the NCAA record for rushing yards in a bowl game, 307 yards against Tulsa. This year Daniels is the ACC's second-leading rusher with 82.1 yards per game. Then there is also the unpredictable play of Junior QB Reggie Ball who averages 228.6 yards of total offense per game.
This will be the Ute's fourth Bowl appearance in five years while the Yellow Jackets are only one of six teams to have reached a bowl game in the last nine consecutive years.
The Emerald Bowl was slated to receive the Pac-10's sixth place team, however only five teams from the Pac-10 are bowl eligible. This opened the door for the Yellow Jackets and now the 2005 Emerald Bowl matches teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference and Mountain West Conference. For appearing in this game, each team will receive $750,000.
Tech boasts a 6-1 record against current members of the Mountain West Conference. The Ramblin' Wreck and Utah have played one common opponent this year; North Carolina. The Yellow Jackets beat the Tar Heels at home 27-21 while Utah lost on the road 31-17.
Gamblers should note that this is the first meeting between Georgia Tech and Utah. In their past two Bowl appearances the Yellow Jackets have scored at least 51 points and covered single digit point spreads while Utah is 3-0 against the spread in their last three Bowl appearances, including a 10-6 win over Southern Cal in 2001 as a 3-point 'dog.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's football picks service.