5 Thoughts - 2009 Sugar Bowl
Utah CB Brice McCain
Utah CB Brice McCain
Posted Jan 3, 2009

Utah beats Alabama 31-17 ... 5 Thoughts on the 2009 Sugar Bowl

2009 Allstate Sugar Bowl

Utah 31 ... Alabama 17

GAME RECAP: Utah pulls off the shocker of the bowl season  
- Fiu's Quarter-by-Quarter, Play-by-Play Game Notes
- 2009 CFN Sugar Bowl Preview 
2009 Sugar Bowl Player Profiles, Histories, & More

1. Utah … national champion?! Why not?

I still don’t believe this is the best team in America, but without a playoff, it’s all about the résumé.

This wasn’t a fluky win and this wasn’t a case of Alabama coming out flat. Utah straight-up whipped the Tide on both sides of the ball, and remember, this was against a team that was No. 1 for most of the year and was a quarter away from playing for the national title. This was a great, great Bama team, and Utah beat it like a drum.

This isn’t 1984 BYU; that Cougar team didn’t beat anyone as good as the 2008 Oregon State team, much less a TCU or an Alabama. This isn’t 2004 Utah or 1999 Marshall or 1998 Tulane. So where, really, should Utah be put in the final rankings? If you’re going to say No. 1, no matter what happens in the BCS Championship, it’s hard to argue. Utah has to be ranked ahead of USC (on the deserve factor, although I still think USC wins easily on a neutral field) and I still want to see the Fiesta Bowl and the national championship, but even if Texas does what everyone thinks it’s going to do, then Utah can’t be any lower than third behind the Florida-OU winner and Texas. However, if Florida wins, then you could argue that Utah’s win over Bama was more impressive than Florida’s win in the SEC title game (even though Andre Smith was missing from the Sugar Bowl), and that the Utes deserve to be first over the Gators. If OU wins, then maybe No. 3 … at worst. At the very least, the Mountain West needs to be given more benefit of the doubt from here on.
- Pete Fiutak 

Brace yourself. Like it or not. Agree or disagree. It’s coming. Over the next few days, you’re going to hear a tidal wave of debate surrounding Utah’s claim to a share of the national championship. I’m not going to tell you that the Utes are the best team in the country or that they’d beat Florida or Oklahoma. Nor will I suggest that they can’t beat the Gators or Sooners. Not after what I saw tonight. All I’d ask is that you hear out those making a case for Utah, the lone unbeaten team of 2008. Don’t dismiss it out of hand simply because it’s a Mountain West team that you’ve only watched once all year. Open up your mind to the possibility and listen to both sides of the debate. If you agree that the current system is dreadful and in need of changes down the road, then pull for Utah to grab a bunch of No. 1 votes when polls are released a week from now. It won’t change the final result and will fall on deaf ears to the powers-that-be, but on some levels, it’ll feel like a much-needed grassroots protest. - Richard Cirminiello

3. While Andre Smith will be an easy scapegoat for why Alabama lost, or at least for why the line couldn't protect John Parker Wilson, I put this loss 99% on Nick Saban and a coaching staff that panicked in its play-calling, didn't adjust for the problems at left tackle, and didn't play enough to the strength. Saban, in his post-game press conference, groused about how Utah held the Bama running game in check. Well, yeah, a little bit. Stats-wise Utah was phenomenal allowing just 31 yards net, but that was because Wilson was sacked what seemed like a bazillion times for -31 yards. Part of the reason the running game should've worked, even without Smith was because of the lack of size up front for Utah. Remember the Wisconsin teams that used to go to the Rose Bowl. Ron Dayne's first half stats were mediocre, but they were legendary in the second half because the behemoths up front had chipped away on smallish defensive fronts wearing them down. Alabama should've done the same thing, but did it run behind its fantastic center, Antoine Caldwell, and keep things moving up the gut? Rarely. The one drive that Mark Ingram, the battering ram, got some significant work, the offense moved the ball and controlled the game. That the offense didn't come away with points on that drive is immaterial; it was working, and the coaching staff should've stuck with it. Glen Coffee only averaged 2.8 yards per carry, but that's partly because Bama was running him wide and on plays that ended up playing into Utah's quickness. Of course, I'm not going to be moronic enough to suggest that Saban doesn't know all the ins and outs of his team, he's too good a coach to not explore every option going into a game like this, but it just seemed like the staff failed to put the players in the best position to win.
- Pete Fiutak 

I sincerely hope that Andre Smith feels awful tonight. The star ‘Bama left tackle, who was suspended for the Sugar Bowl for his alleged improper contact with an agent, was missed far more than anyone imagined. Utah feasted on the retooled Tide offensive line, sacking John Parker Wilson eight times and holding the offense to a season-low for rushing yards. Does Alabama win with Smith in the lineup? No one knows that answer, but it certainly would have been more competitive. Where was his head? He knows the rules. Every kid at this level knows the rules as they pertain to agents. His thoughts obviously weren’t on his teammates, who he let down with his selfish behavior. Heck, the state’s attorney general has even started sniffing around, which is exactly the type of situation this program has tried to avoid after all of the off-field problems earlier in the decade. Smith blew it. Of course, if he wants to truly say he’s sorry to the Tide program and fans, there is a solution. Put off the NFL and do a year of community service in Tuscaloosa as the blindside protector of the Tide’s next starting quarterback. - Richard Cirminiello

This game, on so many levels, reminded me of the 2006 Sugar Bowl (in Atlanta) between West Virginia and Georgia.
Follow the parallels between one night three years ago and this shocking evening in the Louisiana Superdome. They're eerily similar.
On one side, you had a team from a disrespected conference, playing for a state, a region, and its very soul. On the other side stood a heavily-favored SEC team that, while physically gifted, had to guard against complacency.
The underdog maxed out in the game's first quarter, playing flawless football at a high speed. While dominating physically and mastering the Xs and Os, the upstart with everything to prove also used an up-tempo approach to surprise its SEC opponent, who was used to a simpler smashmouth style. By thinking creatively and aggressively, the coaching staff of the underdog embarrassed the coaching staff of the SEC favorite by manipulating all aspects of the game. The SEC team's staff could not and would not make fundamental adjustments, never treating its opponent with a maximum of respect.
In both games, the underdog who traveled to Dixie to take on an SEC foe accumulated a multi-touchdown lead in the early going, inevitably came down to earth in the middle quarters, but then found a late finishing kick to authoritatively seal the deal.
West Virginia of 2005, meet Utah of 2008. Georgia of 2005, meet Alabama of 2008.
Once again, the SEC--for all its virtues (and there are many of them)--got exposed tonight as a league where innovative thinking is sacrificed at the altar of manliness and stubborn pride. Utah played hard and smart. Alabama played fairly hard, but very stupidly.
Memo to a middle-tier or low-rung SEC school looking to beat the big boys (Mississippi State, Vandy, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Auburn, Arkansas): Use a no-huddle offense. Get your players to play fast. Emphasize passing in ways that can blunt the effectiveness of an opponent's power-based pass rush. Throw the ball so well that you don't even need to run the ball all that well to win.
Such an approach would enable you to beat Georgia or Alabama. Florida? The Gators have already been doing what Utah did tonight in New Orleans. After all, Ute coach Kyle Whittingham worked for Urban Meyer, didn't he? - Matthew Zemek