Speed wins over power in Allstate Sugar Bowl

January, 3, 2009
1/03/09
1:53
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
 
 AP Photo/Alex Brandon
 Alabama's John Parker Wilson is sacked by Utah linebacker Stevenson Sylvester in the first half of Saturday's 31-17 Sugar Bowl loss to the Utes.

NEW ORLEANS -- For weeks Utah made it no secret that its top priority heading into the Allstate Sugar Bowl was stopping the run.

Coach Kyle Whittingham even laid out the gameplan of stacking the box with seven or eight players and making Alabama beat the Utes with the pass.

The Crimson Tide fell right into the Utes' trap.

Utah's speedy defense made Alabama's size ineffective as they kept Alabama's running game in check and quarterback John Parker Wilson under pressure almost the entire game en route to a 31-17 win.

"We knew they had a good run game that set up the play action," cornerback Sean Smith said. "The front seven did a great job of applying pressure and it took an average quarterback and it took him down another notch because he has to make a move or run when he's not really ready to let the ball go."

Alabama had 33 carries for 31 rushing yards and the bulk of those yards were lost on sacks. The Utes had eight sacks for 53 yards and most of the sacks came off run blitzes up the middle instead of the edges where Alabama was expecting the pressure.

The Crimson Tide came into the game ranked 21st in the country with just 17 sacks allowed and Wilson hadn't thrown two interceptions in a game all season.

Utah linebacker Stevenson Sylvester tied a BCS bowl record with three sacks and was one of five players that rolled past the Tide's meaty offensive line with pure speed.

"It was all hype," Sylvester said of Alabama's physicality. "We were a lot faster than they were and speed kills, that's what we preach over here. It was great. We just got back there on them and used our athleticism."

Wilson completed 18-of-30 passes 177 yards and two interceptions. He also had several passes that he threw up for grabs andx were dropped by the Utah secondary. He never looked comfortable in the pocket, which was exactly what the Utes hoped to accomplish. Alabama running backs Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram managed 62 rushing yards, but neither had a run longer than 13 yards.

Prior to this game, only Tulane had held Alabama for fewer than 100 yards (99).

The limited running game gave the Utah secondary free reign to focus on the receivers. The much-anticipated matchup between Alabama receiver Julio Jones and cornerback Smith was almost non-existent. Jones had seven catches for 77 yards, but 30 of those yards came on one catch when he found a seam in the Utes zone defense early in the game. Other than that play, Utah kept the Alabama receiving game quiet.

"Our front seven was amazing," said safety Robert Johnson, who had both of Wilson's interceptions. "They made it easier for the secondary to get back, get comfortable and make interceptions. We all knew that Alabama was power and the quarterback set up with most of his yards on play action. They had two receivers that were real good and the rest of the receivers don't really get the ball as much when you're looking at the stats. So it made it easier for us to make them one dimensional."

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