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Sugar Bowl Preview: Utah Vs. Alabama

#6 (12-0) #4 (12-1)

New Orleans Super Dome 7PM CT TV:

The game is finally here, well tomorrow it is. The biggest game in Utah history comes down tomorrow in New Orleans, and of course not many people are giving Utah a chance. The casual fans still think Utah is in the WAC instead of the Mountai West, and some may even think that this game will be a repeat of last years matchup win Hawai'i was cruhsed by Georgia.

Utah is not Hawai'i the Utes defeated two top 15 opponents, defeated Michigan on opening weekend at The Big House well before people knew how bad the Wolverines would be, they defeated Oregon State just a week after they beat USC, and they defeated five bowl teams.

Also, Utah is the only non BCS team to recieve two BCS bowl bids and in the history of the BCS- since its inception in 1998- there are 18 teams who have been to two or more BCS bowl games. To put that into perspective there are 65 teams in a BCS league and 69 total teams who have been to a BCS game which includes Notre Dame, Utah, Boise State, and Hawai'i. If Utah is to win they would be one of only 11 other schools to have two BCS wins sinces its inception.

So far the biggest story is that Alabama has suspended All American left tackle Andre Smith for improper contact with an agent. This was to be the big matchup for Utah with defensive end Paul Kruger taking on the Outalnd Trophy winner in Smith. Kruger was disappointed and said:

"It would have been a good matchup and I was really confident going in," Kruger said. "It would have been a great experience. We'll see who they throw in there. I'm sure they've got some awesome players to back him up."

The Utes plan no difference in their defensive scheme, as for Alabama they will move starting left guard to left tackle and bring in a backup to fill out the offensive line. The backups for Alabama are nearly as good as their starters, because out of high school they were three to five star recruits and just wait their turn to become starters.

The loss may not as big as some Utah people think, because typically the left tackle is big for passing downs and protecting the blind side of the quarterback. Alabama does not throw very often, but with this loss expect Alabama to throw even less. Key running plays did go behind Smith on the left side since he was the team best offensive lineman, so there could be a factor in where they may run in short yardage runs.

On offense Alabama wants to run the ball and they have an offensive line that out weighs the Utes by about 40 pounds per player. This could be a huge advantage for Alabama, because they will be able to wear down the smaller defensive line of Utah.

The top runners for Alabama are Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram the two have combined for 2,049 yards and 22 touchdowns. Coffee is the starter and ran for 1,300 plus yards on the year. What impresses most in the Crimson Tide running game is the yards per carry which is 6.1 for Coffee and 5.2 for Ingram. As a team Alabama runs for 4.8 per rush.

Utah has faced good backs all year and six of the teams they faced had 1,000 yard rushers and then add in Air Force who ran for 3,470 as a team. Utah will need to bring one more player then Alabama uses to block in the running game.

This is nothing new for Utah's defense but the Utes will need to use slants, stunts, and delay run blitzes to counter the size of the offensive line of Alabama. Look for Utah to sub in some of their larger backups who typically have not played a lot all year to help out on the defensive line.

Alabama only passes when it is necessary and with left tackle Andre Smith out, look for Alabama to pass even less. QB John Parker Wilson manages the game and is not asked to pass much. When he does throw he seems to make key plays when needed, but overall is not a super star player. Wilson averages 161 yards per play with an average of just under seven yards per attempt, completed 57.8 percent of his passes, and Wilson has a six to five touchdown to intercetpion ratio.

Alabama does have a threat on the offensive passing game in Freshman All-American Julio Jones who is a deep threat with a 16 yard average per catch. He also has 51 receptions, 847 yards, and four touchdowns.

Besides that, Alabama does not have much offensive fire power in the passing game. Alabama loves to run smash mouth football and run, run and run. Then they will pass if needed, but when the pass look for Utah to matchup Sean Smith who is just as fast as Jones and only one inch smaller.

Typically Utah uses man to man coverage with their corners, and expcect Utah to do that again this game but I would suspect that defensive coordinator Gary Anderson will have some type of zone coverage from the safety or linebacker.

In the passing game the Utes defensive line may have the advantage because of their speed. Paul Kruger leads the team in 7.5 sacks, so expcect him to get at least one sack. The rest of the defensive line and linebackers Utah will run slants and delay blitzes to apply pressure on the Alabama front line.

With Utah on offense they are similar to Florida the team that Alabama just lost to in the SEC title game. It all starts with quarterback Brian Johnson who is a fifth year senior and makes plays when needed, most notably his come from behind wins against TCU and Oregon State.

Johnson is a dual threat who can run if needed, and while he has restrained himself some this year because of injury look for Johnson to perhaps look to take off and run more just like he did against BYU.

Utah also has a solid running game that is a dual threat back system with running backs Matt Asiata and Darrell Mack both have combined for 1,199 yards and 14 scores, 11 for Asiata.

The Utes also use Asiata in the shotgun for a designed run, also the play is ran by back up quarterback Corbin Louks. Also, the Utes use speed back Eddie Wide and the player who could be the biggest difference is wide out Brent Casteel.

Casteel plays a very similar game to Florida's Percy Harvin, who did not play in the SEC title game. Casteel wil get a few rush plays from either end arounds or having him in motion and be involved in an option run.

As a wide out he is second on the team in receptions and in his career Casteel has came up in big games, as for this year he had his best games against TCU, Oregon State, and his best was against BYU where he had two touchdowns.

The other winde outs who are key for Utah are Freddie Brown, Bradon Godfrey, David Reed, and Jereme Brooks. All have caught at least 23 catches and scored a touchdown.

Reed leads the team with five touchdowns, will Brown leads the team with 65 receptions. Look for Utah when they pass to follow Florida's game plan by spreading the ball around and spreading the field by using three to five wide out sets.

Utah will use misdirection, trick, and quick pass plays to counter the size and speed of the Alabama defense.

The key for Alabama to win is to control the offensive line of scrimmage and be able to run the ball like they have all year and control the clock. Utah will need to stop the run and Brian Johnson needs to have a good game and make time in the pocket to find the open man.

If you are looking for a wild card look for it to be Utah's Louie Sakoda who is the teams punter and place kicker. Sakoda is perfect from 48 yards and in for field goals, and in a dome expect Utah to extend his range to perhaps 53 yards for a long. In the punting game he continually pits teams inside the 20, so field position could be the difference.

The Essentials

Versus Bowl Teams - (w) Clemson, (L)Florida, (w)Georgia, (w)Kentucky, (w)Mississippi, (w)LSU

Versus Bowl Teams - (W)TCU, (W) Colorado St., (W)Brigham Young, (W)Air Force, (W)Oregon State

Prediction: Utah 24 Alabama 20

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