Utes whip Yellow Jackets

Gojackets.com covers Utah's 38-10 victory over Georgia Tech in Thursday's Emerald Bowl in San Francisco.

After weeks of heavy rain soaked the surface at SBC Park into something resembling furry soup, two questions remained before Thursday's Emerald Bowl between Georgia Tech and Utah:

Which team would better handle the uncertain footing? And would Utah quarterback Brett Ratliff, a junior-college transfer making his second start, be able to handle Tech's blitzing defense?

Answers: 1) Utah. 2) And how.

Ratliff ripped the No. 24-ranked Yellow Jackets (7-5) for 381 yards passing and four touchdown passes to Travis LaTendresse, leading the Utes to an easy 38-10 romp.

Tech sacked Ratliff twice, but never rattled him. At times, it looked as if he were out in his back yard playing catch with the wide-open LaTendresse, who caught 16 passes for 214 yards and tied an NCAA bowl record with the four TD catches.

Ratliff completed 30 of 41 passes -- 73 percent -- as the Utes (7-5) rolled up 550 yards of total offense. All of LaTendresse's touchdowns came on simple post patterns, as Tech defenders either slipped on the turf or were just out of place.

"He was finding the creases in the defense and Ratliff was doing a good job of getting him the ball," Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said. "If you're a competitor, it makes you mad. It makes you realize how much work you've got to do to get where you want to be."

Where the Jackets thought they were was in a bowl beneath them. The team from the lordly ACC, it was thought, the one that had beaten two Top 10 teams, was undermatched by a collection of juco and Div. III transfers. Oh, and a Georgia Tech reject -- Brian Hernandez, who transferred from Tech after the 2002 season, caught eight passes for 75 yards.

"You could just tell they didn't want to be here," said Ute defensive back Eric Weddle. "When we hung around them (earlier in the week), you just couldn't see the fire that we had in our eyes."

The Utes, who really wanted to play in this game, then took the chip off their shoulder and used it like a 20-pound hammer. The outcome likely would have been the same if the teams had played on bone-dry artificial turf.

Weddle helped spark the Ute defense, which gave up a lot of yards to the Jackets but only one touchdown. Weddle played single coverage against Calvin Johnson, Tech's All America receiver, and held him to two catches for 19 yards.

Weddle also played some option quarterback, got a first down on a fake field goal, and threw an interception to kill a Ute drive (OK, so he's NOT actually Superman).

Tech's offense drove the ball well and kept the Utes in sight in the first half, after the defense gave up 20 points.

Reggie Ball, who finished with 258 yards passing on an 18-for-38 day, hit tight end George Cooper on a delay throw-back that Cooper turned into a 31-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 10-7. And just before halftime, Ball heaved a 65-yard bomb to Damarius Bilbo, who hauled it in at the 12 to set up a 29-yard Travis Bell field goal.

But Ball threw two interceptions, too, and Tech's offense went the way of its defense after halftime. Ball was sacked twice after being dropped only six times all year (he slipped on the turf). P. J. Daniels finished with 109 yards on 20 carries, nearly all of it before intermission. Damarius Bilbo caught four passes for 103 yards, but also faded from view after halftime.

Ute tailback Quinton Ganther, who finished with 120 yards on 22 carries, put the exclamation point on the stomping with a 41-yard touchdown run with 6:26 left.

Tech tailback Chris Woods got most of the backup work ahead of Tashard Choice, and was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 deep in Ute territory to end a late drive. He slipped on the turf, naturally.


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