Sugar Bowl Breakdown: Alabama will overpower Utah in the trenches
'Bama is looking to bounce back after losing to Florida in the SEC title game
Schematically, Utah's offense is very similar to Florida's attack
Alabama must get steady pressure on Utah QB Brian Johnson
Alabama may have missed out on the national title game, but a season nobody saw coming still has Crimson Tide fans turning New Orleans into Tuscaloosa West. 'Bama faithful snatched up the school's allotted tickets for the program's first BCS game since 1999 -- and they could be scooping up Utah's tickets as well.
A second BCS appearance in four years isn't enough for many Utah fans to make the 1,900-mile trip to the Big Easy. The school is concerned it can't sell its tickets, which could cost it as much as $405,000 if it has to cover the loss of 3,000 tickets.
It will unquestionably be a pro-Tide crowd in the Sugar Bowl clamoring to see a blowout in the second straight SEC-vs.-mid-major matchup. While Utah can't match Alabama's storied past or its traveling fanbase, it does have some things 'Bama can't counter: a 75-33 record since 2002; the nation's last perfect record; a top-18 ranking in offense and defense; and the fact that it's played in a BCS game since Bill Clinton was in office.
Three Things You Should Care About
1. Redemption and respect will be up for grabs. The Crimson Tide were hoping to ring in the new year in Miami, but this dream went up in smoke when Florida ended their unbeaten season in the SEC Championship Game. Now Alabama has to prove it can rebound from that disappointment. A win would give the Tide momentum going into next season, while a loss would ultimately put a major damper on what has been an improbable return to prominence in Nick Saban's second season.
"This team has been able to accomplish a lot this season," safety Rashad Johnson said. "We have kind of turned the program around this year and the Sugar Bowl is a great chance to finish the season on a positive note. Great teams are able to rebound from tough losses, and we want to be able to show that we are a great team."
Despite making a second BCS appearance and standing one win from another perfect season, Utah is again playing for respect. While the Utes and Boise State delivered in BCS games, Hawaii's 45-10 loss to Georgia in last year's Sugar Bowl has soured the novelty of a mid-major crashing the party under the loosened criteria. Utah could either strike the biggest blow yet for a mid-major in a BCS game or further hurt a change that the Utes themselves help facilitate in making and winning the '05 Fiesta Bowl.
"We've been in the spotlight a couple of times and it's great to be here again," Utah linebacker Stevenson Sylvester said. "We finished undefeated and Boise State came in undefeated as well, so they gave us some love. But we expect to get a lot more respect after this game."
If Utah didn't have enough motivation, Saban either directly or indirectly delivered a little himself, saying after the SEC title game loss that 'Bama was "the only team that plays in a real BCS conference that went 12-0, which is very difficult to do."
2. Utah's act will look awfully familiar to the Tide. The Utes are as close as it gets stylistically to the only team to beat Alabama this season. When Meyer left the Utes for Florida after the Fiesta Bowl run, Whittingham kept Meyer's spread-option offense intact. While the Utes don't have Tim Tebow at the controls, they do have an effective leader in quarterback Brian Johnson, who was also a Meyer recruit.
The fifth-year senior completed 68 percent of his passes for 2,636 yards and 24 touchdowns while powering the Utes to 30 or more points in nine of their 12 games. Johnson was also well protected behind a line that yielded four sacks in the last five games, but Utah hasn't faced a defensive line as dominant as Alabama's.
The Utes aren't as run-heavy as the Gators, but they do have running back Darrell Mack and a multi-dimensional weapon in Matt Asiata, who often takes the direct snap and has run for 11 scores, thrown for two TDs and caught one.
The Tide are third in total defense, fourth against the rush (78.8 yards per game) and are giving up 13 points per game (sixth nationally). But they just allowed 359 yards (second-most this season) and a season-high 31 points to Florida in the SEC title game. While Utah has the same system, it's unlikely the Utes can match the Gators' output.