MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- With a convoy of teammates leading the way, Morgan Scalley hopped into the end zone to seal a milestone victory for Utah and make a case for these being the best Utes ever.
Scalley returned a fumble for a touchdown late in the game and set up the only other TD by causing a turnover, leading No. 25 Utah to a 17-0 victory over Southern Mississippi in the Liberty Bowl on Wednesday.
The Mountain West Conference champions finished the season with back-to-back shutouts and tied a school record set in 1994 with 10 victories.
"With all due respect to the '94 football team and Utah, and there have been some great teams at Utah, I think this will go down as the greatest senior class and one of the top football teams ever in the history of this program," first-year coach Urban Meyer
said. "You won the championship. You won the championship bowl
game. And forever they will be remembered for that."
In a lackluster game dominated by hard-hitting defense and
sloppy offense, Scalley provided a little excitement.
The junior safety scooped up a fumble after a completed pass and raced 74 yards for a score behind a wall of blockers with 1:36 left to play.
Scalley said he just got lucky after Dave Revill and Eric Weddle jarred the ball from Terrell Browden's grasp.
"The ball just popped into my hands," Scalley said. "I got made fun of earlier in the season because I had a kickoff return I
should have scored on, but I gassed out after 80 yards. Luckily,
this one wasn't 80 yards so I was able to get it in the end zone."
Southern Miss (9-4) managed to get deep into Utah territory just once in the second half when Anthony Harris broke free for a 41-yard run to the 18 with about eight minutes left and Utah up
But the Utes (10-2) stiffened, and on fourth-and-2 from the 10 Revill and Ray Holdcraft combined to sack Micky D'Angelo.
Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower said the Utes didn't fool and surprise the Golden Eagles' offense, they just "whipped us."
The fourth-down stop seemed to inspire Utah's offense
momentarily. Alex Smith hit Paris Warren deep down the middle for
49 yards on the next play.
That led to Bryan Borreson's 19-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 3:24 left.
Brandon Warfield had 91 yards rushing on 27 carries for Utah and scored the only offensive touchdown in the second quarter.
Warfield bulled into the end zone from 5 yards out, two plays after Scalley forced a fumble by Southern Miss quarterback Dustin Almond deep in Golden Eagles' territory.
The shutout was the first in the Liberty Bowl since 1994, when Illinois beat East Carolina 30-0.
Utah didn't allow a point in its final 10 quarters.
"Our defensive staff and our defense played phenomenal. For 10 quarters now, they've played as good a defensive football as I've ever been around," Meyer said.
Southern Miss, the Conference USA champion, had its six-game winning streak snapped, despite a stellar game by linebacker Rod
Davis and the Golden Eagles' swarming defense.
"I said they beat us physically," Bower said. "Their defense beat our offense physically. Heck, no they didn't whip us
physically on the other side of the ball."
The teams combined for just 441 yards, 228 by Utah.
"We just didn't make the plays when we had to," said Davis, who had 11 tackles and a sack. "We just couldn't get that big play to happen for us."
The Utes ended the regular season with a 3-0 victory over BYU, but that was in a snow storm. Weather had nothing to do with the
offensive ineptitude on Wednesday.
Neither starting quarterback had much time to throw against the constantly blitzing defenses, and when they did they were rarely accurate.
Almond, who made great strides after a poor start to the season, was 11-for-33 for 122 yards. He was relieved by D'Angelo to start the fourth quarter.
D'Angelo was 2-for-6 for 22 yards and sustained a concussion on the fourth-down sack.
Smith wasn't much better for the Utes. He went 8-for-19 for 124 yards.
The Pac-10 officials were busy throughout, calling 24 penalties -- 12 on each team -- for 177 yards.