The next bowl game featuring a Pac-12 team will also take place in the grand ol’ state of Texas between two teams that were kind of…bleh this season: The Hyundai Sun Bowl, featuring the University of Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the University of Utah Utes.
To say that both teams had shaky seasons would be an understatement: The Yellow Jackets (8-4) opened the season 6-0 for the first time since 1966, but then went on to crash and burn, losing four of their final six games—including a 31-17 defeat to in-state rival Georgia in their regular-season finale. In contrast, the Utes got off to a slow start in their first year with the Pac-12, losing four of seven games at the top of the season, including its first four conference games. However, they did rally back and have four straigt wins over conference opponents and at one point were viable contenders for the Pac-12 title game.
But then they lost their last game to Colorado…so there’s that.
Before the Utes joined the Pac-12, they saw much success under the leadership of quarterback Johnny Flynn, but a shoulder injury last season has curtailed his success. He suffered another season-ending shoulder injury this season in a 31-14 loss to Washington, and the Utes’ ability to recover from the loss as a team was uncertain. Queue Jon Hays, who stepped up to the plate in Flynn’s absence, and did a fine job: he threw for 1,110 yards and eight touchdowns over his eight starts.
But all the real credit has to go to running back John White, who really put the offense on his back this season. He finished ninth nationally in the regular season with 1,404 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns. White, could be the game-changer against the Yellow Jackets defense, which is tied for 70th in the country with an average of 162.9 rushing yards allowed. If Georgia Tech cannot find a way to contain him, it will be lights out for the Yellow Jackets.
In contrast to the Yellow Jackets’ poor run defense, Utah is giving up the seventh-fewest rushing yards per game (98.3), but will undoubtedly be tested by Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense. The Yellow Jackets know how to put in work on the ground, averaging 316.8 yards per game—the third-highest total in the FBS.
And that’s JUST on the ground.
The Yellow Jackets also feature a potent running back dynamic with David Sims and Orwin Smith who have rushed for 698 and 616 yards, respectively, while junior quarterback Tevin Washington led the team with 890. Combined, this ridiculous trio of athletes has 32 rushing TDs.
So obviously, good defensive play is going to be critical to Utah staying in this game.
These teams have faced each other only once—in the 2005 Emerald Bowl—and the Utes took home the W, with a final score of 38-10.
As far as overall bowl history though, The Yellow Jackets are making their 40th bowl appearance in school history, and are 22-17 all-time in the postseason. Georgia Tech’s string of 15 consecutive bowl appearances is tied for the fourth-longest active run among FBS programs. While this streak is certainly impressive, it should also be noted that the Yellow Jackets have lost six consecutive post-season games. They aren’t carry much momentum into this game having ended their season with that loss to Georgia and that lack of confidence could be an issue for this team.
Utah, on the other hand, is very familiar with post-season success.
Under head coach Kyle Whittingham, Utah has gone 6-1 in bowl games, including a 2005 Fiesta Bowl victory that sealed an undefeated season, and a 2007 Sugar Bowl beat down of the Alabama Crimson Tide, which also capped an undefeated season.
Utah has gone 12-4 overall, and had won nine in a row before suffering a 26-3 defeat to Boise State in last season’s Las Vegas Bowl.
Since the Triple Option offense has been installed at Georgia Tech, it hasn’t faired well in bowl games, including beatdowns against both Iowa and LSU. Pundits say that it’s a potent weapon when teams don’t have time to prepare for it, but the month between the end of the season and bowl play gives teams a chance to prepare an adequate defense. How Utah’s able to respond to layoff will determine who ends up winning this game. Expect Georgia Tech to be able to grind it out, due to the inexperience of Utah against any sort of option this year. By the time they figure it out, it may be too late. Georgia Tech will win this one, 28-21.
The Sun Bowl kicks off at 11 a.m. Pacific time on Saturday, Dec. 31, with coverage on CBS.
Tune in to see if Georgia Tech can snap its post-season losing streak, or if Utah can add another win to their stats.