Utah's dream becomes a reality
Utes romp over Pittsburgh 35-7 in Fiesta, finish season a perfect 12-0
Posted: Sunday January 2, 2005 12:29AM; Updated: Wednesday January 5, 2005 5:26AM
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Utah looked like a powerhouse that deserved a better final test to its BCS-busting season.
The fifth-ranked Utes, behind the cool efficiency of Alex Smith, used their baffling spread offense and an underrated defense to dominate 19th-ranked Pittsburgh 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday night.
Utah was a 16-point favorite, the biggest margin of any of the bowls, and it was a safe bet.
Smith completed 29 of 37 passes, four of them for touchdowns, for 328 yards and the Utes sacked Pitt's Tyler Palko nine times, a Fiesta Bowl record.
Smith, a Heisman Trophy finalist who is considering going to the NFL after this, his junior, season, also rushed 15 times for 68 yards.
Paris Warren caught 15 passes, breaking the Fiesta record of 11 set by Kellen Winslow of Miami in the 2003 national championship loss to Ohio State.
Warren, who transferred from Oregon in 2002, had 198 yards receiving, third-most in Fiesta Bowl history. Smith's 78 percent completion rate was also a Fiesta Bowl mark.
"It doesn't get any better than this," Warren told the boisterous Utah supporters at the postgame awards ceremony.
Smith and Warren shared the offensive MVP award, and Utah nose guard Steve Fifita was named the defensive MVP.
Meyer punctuated two memorable years in Salt Lake City with the Utes' first unbeaten, untied season since 1930. He leaves for Florida after making Utah the first team from outside the six BCS conferences to force its way into a Bowl Championship Series game.
"This is the best group of young men I've ever been around," Meyer said. "It's going to be hard to say goodbye, but we're saying goodbye 12-0."
Tens of thousands of Utah fans who made up at least three-fourths of the sellout crowd of 73,519 were not disappointed.
Utah scored touchdowns on five of its first seven possessions, including all three in the third quarter.
Out of a dizzying array of formations, the Mountain West Conference champs kept the Panthers off balance all night with everything from option plays to a handful of shovel passes. The Utes set up one touchdown with a reverse and scored another on the old "hook-and-ladder" play.
On that play, Smith threw to Steve Savoy, who flipped the ball to Warren. Warren dashed 18 yards for the score, capping a 10-play, 94-yard drive, to put the Utes up 35-7 with 25 seconds left in the third quarter.
Pitt (8-4) was overmatched in its final game under coach Walt Harris, who is leaving for Stanford after eight seasons with the Panthers. Pittsburgh was the unwanted team among the eight BCS squads. The Panthers automatically qualified for one of the four elite games as Big East champions, even though they were only 21st in the BCS rankings.
"They are a very good, very explosive team, and it was a tough game for us," Harris said. "We did not match up physically as well as we needed to in order to stay in it, especially offensively."
Dave Wannstedt, who resigned this season as coach of the Miami Dolphins, has been hired to replace Harris.
As the BCS buster with a huge following, Utah was welcomed by the Fiesta Bowl organizers, but they had no choice but to invite Pitt as the opponent.
In the first half, the Panthers accomplished their goal of controlling the ball and keeping Utah's offense off the field as much as possible. Pitt had a seven-minute advantage in time of possession, but the Utes still led 14-0, even though they had the ball only four times, the last with just 49 seconds to go in the half.
The Panthers were in Utah territory three times in the first half, but four sacks -- and a blocked field goal try -- kept them scoreless.