Because I live in a Mountaineer-centric universe, I can draw a comparison between nearly any current sporting event and a WVU sporting event in the past.
But I don’t have to stretch too far to see shades of WVU’s 2006 Sugar Bowl win over Georgia and WVU’s 2008 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma in Utah’s win last night over Alabama.
The second comparison is more obvious to make: Utah, like WVU in 2006, was a heavy underdog coming from a poor-mouthed conference headed to play a traditional SEC powerhouse in the Sugar Bowl.
Last night, Utah jumped out to a 21-0 win before ‘bama started to claw back into it. The Utes built their lead on letter-perfect offensive execution.
In 2006, WVU exploded to a 28-0 lead by the early second quarter before Georgia even appeared to take the field. WVU used its clockwork-precise, lightning-fast zone-read option running game, misdirection, strategic passing and superior speed to overwhelm Georgia before the Bulldogs began clawing back. To Utah’s credit, WVU had to pull out a fake punt late in the fourth quarter to hold onto its win; Utah’s victory over ‘bama last night was never in doubt.
The comparison was eerily similar, right down to the stunned fans wearing red (or crimson) holding their arms aloft in disbelief as WVU/Utah rolled to yet another score over Georgia/Alabama.
But Utah also beat ‘bama last night by employing a faster and unpredictably blitzing defense, just like WVU did against Sam Bradford and Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. In that game, the Mountaineers brought blitzes from everywhere in their unusual 3-3-5 stack defense, sending linebackers. cornerbacks and safeties. Oklahoma’s lauded offensive line had no answer for WVU’s faster three-man rush, either giving up sacks or committing holding penalties. The mighty ‘bama offensive line could not stop Utah’s speedier rushers and let quarterback John Parker Wilson get sacked an amazing eight times.
What does Utah’s victory last night mean?
First, it means they should get a chance to play for a national championship, which they won’t, which is sad.
Second, it’s just one more demonstration of the parity that has crossed Division I college football these days. Thanks to the scholarship limit (70) being put in place in the early ‘90s, the fact that kids know they can go to a Utah or a Ball State and play right away and play on TV and the amazing growth of youth football -- particularly the seven-on-seven competition in Texas and elsewhere that breeds passing quarterbacks and speed position players -- everyone can have a shot at being competitive these days.
There was no doubt: Utah did not gimmick or surprise their way to victory last night. They were a better team than Alabama.
And, even though Nick Saban is a native West Virginian, it was particularly delightful to see him so peeved on the sideline as the game wore on, giving his prickly and megalomaniacal personality
Did you *see* him screaming at one of his defensive players as he tackled a Ute on the sideline right in front of Saban? That's the guy you want your son playing for, right?