Alabama could have used suspended All-America left tackle Andre Smith, but even he might not have been enough to stop a Utah defense that played with speed, ferocity and discipline.
The Utes’ front seven was significantly outweighed by Alabama’s offensive line, but refused to give ground to the Tide’s normally powerful running game that averaged 196.5 yards per game coming into the Sugar Bowl. Glen Coffee was held to 36 yards on 13 carries, while Mark Ingram rushed eight times for only 26 yards.
The Utes’ array of stunts and blitzes appeared to upset Wilson’s rhythm. He overthrew a couple of open receivers downfield and finished 18-of-30 for 177 yards and a touchdown
Utah didn’t seem very interested in running the ball, and who could blame them the way Johnson adeptly spread the ball around to seven receivers? He hit Freddie Brown 12 times for 125 yards.
Johnson’s touchdowns went for 7 yards to Brent Casteel, 18 yards to Bradon Godfrey and 28 yards to David Reed. Matt Asiata ran for a 2-yard TD, a score set up by Reed’s leaping catch at the 2.
An Alabama comeback appeared to be building early in the second half, when Dont’a Hightower stripped Johnson, and Bobby Greenwood recovered at the Utah 30. Wilson methodically drove the Tide for a score, hitting Coffee for an easy 4-yard score on a rollout to close the gap to 21-17.
At the point, Alabama had scored 17 straight points, and it appeared to be only a matter of time before the Tide, favored by more than a touchdown, would overtake the underdog Utes.
Johnson had other ideas, opening Utah’s next drive with a 33-yard pass over the middle to Brown. The completion kick-started a 71-yard scoring drive that ended with Reed’s touchdown.
The Tide drove right back into Utah territory, but Ingram was stuffed for no gain on third-and-2 from the Utah 32. Leigh Tiffen then missed his second long field goal of the game, hooking a 49-yarder just left of the upright.
Only a year ago, the Sugar Bowl saw its first BCS buster in Hawaii, which took a 41-10 beating from Georgia.
Utah calmly dismissed any comparisons to last year’s game during the lead-up to the game, and wasted no time proving it on the field.
Utah’s 21-0 lead, the largest deficit the Tide faced all season, stood until Tiffin hit a 52-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. Alabama did not score an offensive TD in the half, but pulled to 21-10 when Javier Arenas returned a punt 73 yards for a score.
“They jumped ahead of us early in the game. I don’t think we gave them their due respect coming into the game,” Coffee said. “That’s something we never should have allowed to happen.”
CFT: The Detroit Lions are expected to own and operate their own bowl game at Ford Field, starting play in 2014, according to a report by ESPN.
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Former Penn State President Graham Spanier is asking a county judge to throw out criminal charges accusing him of helping to cover up abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Sugar Bowl postgame interviews
Nick Saban makes an apology and Utah's coach Whittingham and QB Brian Johnson think Utah is the best team in the country.
Video: Football from NBC Sports
HBO Real Sports: Bill O'Brien
Penn State football coach and 2012 National Coach of the Year shares the challenges in turning around a program shattered by scandal. Real Sports premieres Tuesday, May 21 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
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Pregame color, key plays and other moments from 'Bama's blowout win.
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The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
More on Sugar Bowl
No. 7 Utah 31, No. 4 Alabama 17