Receiver Travis LaTendresse raises the trophy after being named offensive player of the game.
Dec. 29, 2005
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Travis LaTendresse felt all alone at times during the Emerald Bowl, catching pass after pass without a Georgia Tech defender anywhere near him.
The sixth-year Utah senior wasn't lonely afterward. He got a ride on his fans' shoulders following another blowout bowl victory for the Utes and their phenomenal offense.
LaTendresse caught 16 passes for 214 yards and an NCAA bowl record-tying four touchdowns, Brett Ratliff passed for 381 yards and Utah rolled up 550 total yards in a 38-10 victory over No. 24 Georgia Tech on Thursday.
Quinton Ganther ran for 120 yards and added a 41-yard TD romp in the fourth quarter for the Utes (7-5), who finished their follow-up season to their 12-0 run through the Bowl Championship Series in 2004 with an offensive performance more than worthy of former coach Urban Meyer's sublime team.
Though the prize was smaller and the stars have changed, the result was the same as last year's Fiesta Bowl win over Pittsburgh: a comfortable victory and countless style points for the exciting Utes.
"I don't think the ACC has seen a passing attack like the ones in the Mountain West," said LaTendresse, a Northern California native with 100 friends and relatives in the stands. "We came out with a chip on our shoulders. That was an ACC team which said they didn't belong here. We took it personally that they don't respect us."
Reggie Ball passed for 258 yards for the Yellow Jackets, who were disappointed to be so far from Atlanta for the postseason - and it showed. Georgia Tech's vaunted defense, ranked among the nation's leaders entering the game, was shredded and stomped by a backup quarterback and his speedy receivers for its season-high in yards allowed.
"They quit on themselves," said LaTendresse, the game's offensive MVP. "Slowly but surely, they gave up. That first quarter, they had a lot of fight, and they were talking. But slowly their talk diminished, and their heads went down. That's what you have to do: make them quit."
LaTendresse, who missed three late-season games with an ankle injury, seemed to be open all day while the Utes ruined the favored Yellow Jackets' (7-5) ninth straight bowl appearance. Each of his four TD catches of 14, 23, 25 and 16 yards came on simple post patterns down the middle.
Ratliff, who went 30-of-41 in his second career start, and LaTendresse both set Utah bowl records with a superb afternoon of pitch-and-catch against the Yellow Jackets' bewildered secondary.
"They didn't do anything fancy or unusual that we haven't worked on, but when you play them, you have to get ready for a ton of stuff," Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said. "When you haven't spent a ton of time on something, sometimes they get you, and they got us good."
First-year head coach Kyle Whittingham, Meyer's defensive coordinator, easily won his bowl debut - Utah's fifth straight postseason victory.
"We had so many guys making plays today, it was unbelievable," Whittingham said. "(Georgia Tech) was a quality football team, and not only did we beat them, we dominated them."
Cornerback Eric Weddle, the Mountain West Conference's top defensive player and the Emerald Bowl's defensive MVP, did a bit of everything for the Utes - running the ball, engineering a fake field goal as a holder, even throwing a terrible interception.
But Weddle was most valuable in his day job, limiting star Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson to two catches for 19 yards.
"You could just tell they didn't want to be here," Weddle said. "When we hung around them (earlier in the week), you just couldn't see the fire that we had in our eyes."
Despite the injury absences of quarterback Brian Johnson and top receiver John Madsen, the Utah offense was mostly flawless. Brian Hernandez, a junior who began his college career at Georgia Tech in 2002, added eight catches for 75 yards for the Utes.
"Their whole offense didn't allow us to get into a rhythm," Georgia Tech safety Chris Reis said. "We didn't come out to play, we came out flat, we didn't catch back up. ... It isn't embarrassing as much as it is disappointing."
LaTendresse scored Utah's first three touchdowns, opening a 20-0 lead early in the second quarter. Ball threw two interceptions in the first half, though he hit tight end George Cooper for a 31-yard score after Weddle, who occasionally runs the ball on direct snaps for Utah's offense, threw an interception on a gadget play.
But the defense held Georgia Tech scoreless in the second half, and the Utes put it out of reach early in the fourth quarter. LaTendresse caught his fourth TD pass over the middle and ran headfirst into a picture of Willie Mays on the left-field wall at SBC Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.
Utah made it 31-10 with a 2-point conversion - Ratliff to LaTendresse, of course.