Coach Whittingham called it a "microcosm of the season". I couldn't have said it better myself.
Only this time, coach, the Utes finished what they started.
But really, what did you expect from this Utah team?
2011 started on a high-note for the Utes as they opened the season at 2-1 after a 54-10 trouncing of arch-rival BYU. Two weeks later quarterback Jordan Wynn was lost for the year to injury and the season took a turn for the worse. At 3-4 the season looked all-but lost when the Utes rallied and won 5 of their next 6 games losing only to Colorado on the season's final Saturday.
The Sun Bowl wasn't much different. After jumping ahead 7-0 early things looked to be in Utah's control. But just when the game seemed to be going their way the Utes stumbled and fell behind an almost insurmountable lead.
After rallying from two scores down in the fourth quarter and scoring on a 4th down play with just over a minute and a half left, Utah almost forgot to finish what they started. Like the Colorado game, the Utes came all the way back only to be on the verge of giving up what they had earned.
Lucky for Utah, Tech's 48-yard kick as time expired was wide right and the Utes were given one more shot in overtime.
Just like they did during the regular season, the team rallied together and pulled off a shocker in dramatic fashion. This time they finished.
Both sides of the ball deserve credit and criticism in this game. Neither were perfect, but both came through when they needed to.
On offense, Jon Hays played one of his best all-around games as a Ute despite the pick-6 he threw in the 3rd quarter. His season-long progression showed in this game and although he didn't play perfectly he played as well as Jon Hays can and it was enough to give Utah a chance.
His throws on 3rd and 4th downs on the final drive of regulation were two of his best throws all year. That 4th down play had as much pressure riding on it as any play-call the entire year and when it mattered the most Hays delivered a perfect pass to keep his team alive.
John White put his name in Utah record books and his touchdown run in overtime will certainly be a memory Ute fans won't soon forget.
His 115 yards on Saturday were as important as any of the 1,529 he accumulated throughout the year. His ability to churn out yardage in the second half when the offense had bogged down kept Utah alive and allowed them a chance to rally in the fourth quarter.
And though the defensive effort won't wow anybody as far as statistics are concerned (Tech rushed for 326 yards and passed for an additional 137) key players stepped up when they needed to and Whittingham's famous 'bend but don't break' mentality won out.
Star Lotulelei, Derrick Shelby, Brian Blechen, and Chaz Walker all stood out during the game with their play. Tevita Finau, Eric Rowe, Mo Lee and others deserve recognition as well.
Assignment football isn't always fun and it's never easy but this group did what they needed to in the most important situations. The two defensive stops that led to Utah's fourth quarter touchdowns were crucial, and their play on the final drive was just enough to force overtime.
Thier stop in overtime opened the door for the win, and the offense broke the door down.
An 8-5 season isn't often a year to remember, but 2011 is definitely the exception.
Utah's first go-around in the Pac-12 was without a doubt a success. Utah is currently the only Pac-12 team with a bowl win despite 5 chances so far. Pre-season unknown John White IV set the school's single-season rushing yardage record. And despite all the media chatter about whether or not the Utes could play with the big-boys, Coach Whitt's group proved they can.
2012 holds as many if not more questions for the Utes. With signing day looming and spring practice just a few short months away next season can't start soon enough.
And if 2011 is any indicator at all, Coach Whitt has his program poised to do big things in the coming years.
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