Nov. 25, 2003
SALT LAKE CITY -
Complete Release in PDF Format
Download Free Acrobat Reader
> Utah (9-2, 6-1 Mountain West Conference) is the outright conference champion for the first time since 1957, when it competed in the Skyline Conference.
> Utah will play the Conference USA champion in the AXA Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., on Dec. 31. It is Utah's second appearance in the Liberty Bowl and its first since the bowl moved to Tennessee. Utah beat West Virginia, 32-6, in the 1964 Liberty Bowl in Atlantic City.
> Utah's 9-2 record is tied for the second-most wins in school history. The 1994 Utes went 10-2 and beat Arizona in the Freedom Bowl. Utah has won nine games four times: 1964 (9-2), 1994 (10-2), 1999 (9-3), 2003 (9-2).
> With the AXA Liberty Bowl still ahead, first-year Head Coach Urban Meyer already has achieved the best record for a first-year Ute coach. Meyer is also the only head coach to win a conference championship in his debut year at Utah.
> This is the 45th-annual Liberty Bowl. The first five games were held in Philadelphia, one game (1964) was held in Atlantic City and all games since 1965 have been played in Memphis.
> The AXA Liberty Bowl will be televised on ESPN. Utah is 1-0 on ESPN this year, beating California on Sept. 11.
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Just about everything is different from last season when Utah lost six straight games and finished 5-6 overall and fifth in the MWC. Ironically, fifth place is where the 2003 Utes were picked in the preseason media/coaches' poll. Instead, this year's Utes are the outright MWC champs and their 9-2 overall record is tied for the second-most wins in school history. Not since Utah's last Liberty Bowl season in 1964 have the Utes won nine games after finishing below .500 the previous year. The turnaround has come under first-year U. head coach Urban Meyer
, whose exciting, explosive offense also attracted school record crowds to Ute home games this year.
UTE BOWL TRIVIA
Utah is 5-4 all-time in bowl games ... Utah was invited to both the Sun Bowl and the Pineapple Bowl in 1951, but declined. In 1941, Utah was slated to play Hawaii in the Pineapple Bowl, but the game was canceled after the bombing of Pearl Harbor ... Utah has never played a game on Dec. 31 ... The 2003 AXA Liberty Bowl is the sixth Wednesday football game ever for Utah, but its first since 1947.
UTAH BOWL HISTORY
1938 Sun Bowl (defeated New Mexico 26-0)
1946 Pineapple Bowl (lost to Hawaii 19-16)
1964 Liberty Bowl (defeated West Virginia 32-6)
1992 Copper Bowl (lost to Washington State 31-28)
1993 Freedom Bowl (lost to Southern California 28-21)
1994 Freedom Bowl (defeated Arizona 16-13)
1996 Copper Bowl (lost to Wisconsin 38-10)
1999 Las Vegas Bowl (defeated Fresno State 17-16)
2001 Las Vegas Bowl (defeated Southern California 10-6)
2003 Liberty Bowl
Picked to finish fifth in the MWC preseason media/coaches poll in August, the Urban Meyer-led Utes instead won their first outright conference championship since 1957. The Utes, who were coming off a 5-6 season, finished the 2003 regular season with a 9-2 overall record and 6-1 conference mark.
Utah's nine-win season, just the fourth in the 111-year history of the program, included wins over Pac-10 schools California (31-24) and (then) No. 19 Oregon (17-13). Utah's only non-league loss was a two-point heartbreaker in the second game of the season to Texas A&M (28-26).
The Utes won their first three conference games, starting with a 28-21 stunner over defending MWC champion Colorado State in Ft. Collins, before falling to eventual MWC runner-up New Mexico (47-35) at home. Utah bounced back by knocking two other title contenders out of the race. First the Utes edged Air Force in a thrilling 45-43 three-overtime game and then they simply pummeled Wyoming (47-17). The Utes closed their regular season with a 3-0 victory over arch-rival BYU in miserably cold, near-blizzard conditions in Provo, Utah, on Nov. 22.
One of the most balanced Ute teams in history will take the field for the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31. Utah's offense, which ranked dead last in the league in scoring average in 2002, improved to No. 3 this fall under the direction of sensational sophomore quarterback Alex Smith
. Utah's always strong defense made the difference in the end: The Utes broke BYU's NCAA record for consecutive games with a score (361), which dated back to 1975, by holding the Cougars scoreless in a 3-0 Ute victory.
is 9-2 at Utah and 26-8 in his third year as a head coach. He is 7-1 against BCS teams with his only loss a 28-26 setback to Texas A&M this year. Widely considered one of the up-and-comers in the college coaching ranks, Meyer, 39, was hired by Utah on Dec. 12, 2002 after leading Bowling Green to a two-year record of 17-6. Under Meyer, BGSU cracked the AP Top 20 after starting the 2002 season with eight straight wins. Named the Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year as a first-year head coach in 2001, Meyer went 8-3 and 9-3 in his two years at BG. His previous coaching stops included assistantships at Ohio State (graduate assistant), Illinois State, Colorado State and Notre Dame.
MEYER'S BOWL EXPERIENCE
While this is Utah head coach Urban Meyer's
first bowl game as a head coach, he has plenty of previous bowl experience to draw on. Meyer was an assistant coach for seven bowl teams from 1986-2000. As a graduate assistant in 1986, he coached the tight ends for Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. He was Colorado State's receivers coach in three bowl games: the 1990 Freedom Bowl and the 1994-95 Holiday bowls. As the receivers coach at Notre Dame, Meyer participated in the 1997 Independence Bowl, the 1998 Gator Bowl and the 2000 Fiesta Bowl.
SMITH FOR PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Sophomore quarterback Alex Smith's
contributions in Utah's conference championship march have made him a leading candidate for MWC Offensive Player of the Year honors. Since taking over the starting job against California on Sept. 11, Smith has led Utah to an 8-1 mark. The three-time MWC offensive player of the week has completed a higher percentage (67%) of his passes than any other QB in the MWC and he ranks in the top two in the league in pass efficiency (157.4) and total offense (253.3 ypg). Amazingly accurate and poised under pressure, Smith has thrown just two interceptions in 247 attempts-by far the best numbers of any MWC quarterback. He is third in the league in passing offense (212.3 ypg). Nationally, Smith ranks No. 10 in pass efficiency and No. 29 in total offense. He is also Utah's second-leading rusher with 136 carries for 410 yards. He rushed for 70 or more yards in four games, with a career-best 97 rushing yards vs. UNLV. Smith has been responsible for 20 touchdowns this season-15 passing and five rushing.
Utah snuffed a longstanding NCAA record and earned its first outright conference championship in 46 years with its 3-0 victory over Brigham Young on a frigid, snowy day in Provo. The Cougars had scored in an NCAA-record 361 straight games, dating back to 1975, before meeting an unyielding Ute defense on Nov. 22, 2003. Utah also struggled on offense in a game where 41-yard second quarter field goal by Bryan Borreson
held up. It was the second-longest field goal of the year for Borreson. Running back Brandon Warfield
returned to action after a two-and-three-quarter game absence and rushed 18 times for 50 yards. Alex Smith
threw for 113 yards and rushed for a team-best 55 yards and Paris Warren
edged closer to the school single-season reception record by catching 4 passes for 78 yards. But the story of this game was the defense, which held BYU to a paltry 156 total yards and nine first downs. Dave Revill
and Eric Weddle
each snared interceptions and Josh Savage
and Ray Holdcraft
had 7 tackles apiece. Weddle teamed up with Casey Evans
for one of the biggest plays of the game: When Utah had to punt with 3:00 remaining, Weddle forced a fumble (the fourth of the year for the hard-hitting freshman), which was recovered by Evans on the BYU 22. A 13-yard rush on third down by Warfield allowed the Utes to run out the clock.
BORRESON IS MWC PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Ute field goal kicker Bryan Borreson
, who scored the only points in Utah's title-clinching win over BYU, was named the Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Week on Nov. 24. It marks the first such conference award for the sophomore kicker, whose 41-yard field goal in the second quarter of Utah's 3-0 win against BYU was his second longest made field goal of the year.
Utah was 5-1 at home and 4-1 on the road this year. The Utes have won four straight road games and have not lost outside Salt Lake City since a 28-26 loss to Texas A&M on Sept. 6 ... The AXA Liberty Bowl is Utah's first neutral site game since the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl ... Utah is 11-14-2 all-time in games played at neutral sites. Utah's all-time overall record is 545-403-31 ... Utah set a new school attendance this fall record by averaging 41,478 spectators per game. It easily surpassed the old mark of 39,249 set in 1999 ... Utah cracked the national rankings once this year: The Utes were ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press poll and No. 23 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll on Oct. 19 before a loss to New Mexico on Oct. 25 dropped them out of both polls.
BEATING THE ODDS
The Utes' 9-2 record is even more amazing when the personnel losses they have suffered are considered. They have played without two all-conference players, a one-time NCAA rushing leader, a starting offensive lineman and a starting linebacker. Utah also lost its starting quarterback in the second game for four weeks. Two-time first-team all-conference defensive end Jason Kaufusi
has missed the entire season with a shoulder injury. Second-team all-conference running back Brandon Warfield
, a preseason all-conference pick and the league's leading rusher through the first seven games of 2003, missed most of three games with a knee injury. He returned for the regular season finale. All-America candidate Marty Johnson
was the NCAA's rushing leader (202.5 ypg) for the first two games of 2002 before a season-ending knee injury. He has missed the entire 2003 season due to an injury and a suspension. Starting offensive guard Jesse Boone
has missed all but the first three games with a foot injury. Starting linebacker Zach Tune
(suspension) is gone for the season. Utah also lost (then) starting quarterback Brett Elliott
for a month to a broken wrist and has played games without starting offensive guard Chris Kemoeatu
(injury and suspension), leading receiver Paris Warren
(suspension), starting defensive end Marquess Ledbetter
(injury) and starting PAT/field goal kicker Bryan Borreson
(injury). Utah's replacement starting running back when Warfield went down, Mike Liti
, broke his collarbone on Nov. 15.
BY THE NUMBERS
Utah has a 33:28-26:32 advantage in time of possession ... Utah has out-scored its opponents in every quarter this year ... Utah's best offensive quarter is the fourth (106 points) and its worst is the first (48 points) ... The top scoring opponent quarter is the second (77 points). Utah's defense is best in the first quarter, allowing just 27 points.
Defensive back Eric Weddle
and wide receiver Steve Savoy can make a strong case for MWC Defensive and Offensive Newcomer of the Year accolades. Weddle, a starting cornerback, has 54 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 3 interceptions, 4 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. He leads the league in forced fumbles. Starting receiver Savoy has 39 catches for 622 yards and 7 touchdowns. He is averaging a team-best 15.9 yards per catch and has become known for his ability to make tough catches under pressure. Savoy is averaging 56.5 receiving yards per game, 10th in the MWC.
THE UTE ZONE
Before failing to score on three trips inside the red zone against BYU on Nov. 22, Utah had scored 25 straight times when it reached the opponent's 20-yard line. Utah's season red zone scoring success rate is 81%. Utah has scored 34 touchdowns and 10 field goals in 53 red zone attempts. Opponents have crossed into the red zone 34 times, scoring on 29 of those occasions (20 touchdowns, 9 field goals).