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Stopping the run key for Utes in Sun Bowl

Georgia Tech offensive linemen Phil Smith, right, and Tyler Kidney go through drills on Tuesday afternoon.
Georgia Tech offensive linemen Phil Smith, right, and Tyler Kidney go through drills on Tuesday afternoon.
Associated Press

EL PASO, Texas — Saturday's Sun Bowl could easily be dubbed as the "Run Bowl." Georgia Tech sports the nation's No. 3 rushing offense (316.83 ypg) and Utah boasts the No. 7 rushing defense (97 ypg) in the country.

"Certainly a lot of the strengths of their football team coincide with what looks like the strengths of our football team if you compare the rushing defense to the rushing offense and those type of things," acknowledged Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson. "So it ought to be an interesting matchup."

It's getting top billing in local advertising for the game and was a major topic of discussion at Tuesday morning's press conference with the head coaches.

"We've got our hands full," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We've got our work cut out for us — without a doubt. Fortunately we've got a little background in it."

Regular meetings against Air Force have prepped the Utes for Georgia Tech's triple-option attack.

"In all those years, you never truly stop a option offense," Whittingham said. "You just try to slow it down."

The best way to do that, he explained, is to control the ball with your own offense and keep the other guys on the sideline.

Whittingham said it's something that is going to be critical in the Sun Bowl. Utah's offense, he continued, needs to convert on third down and, most importantly, take care of the ball.

"Our preparation has been very good," Whittingham said.

Georgia Tech, meanwhile, is also preparing for the impending clash. Johnson credits the Utes for running to the ball well and being good tacklers.

"Certainly they've got a very formidable group on defense," he said. "I think that the defensive line is as good as we've played against, or possibly better than anybody we've played. So that will be a challenge for us."

Even so, Johnson insists the Yellow Jackets aren't going to alter their scheme.

"We can't change what we do," he said. "So we'll just have to find a way to see if we can execute a little bit and maybe have some success."

The battle between Georgia Tech's offense and Utah's defense, though, isn't the only pivotal matchup in the game.

Johnson joked that what's usually talked about beforehand is often not what matters. He said the difference could be his team's ability to stop Utah's rushing attack. That, Johnson noted, could play as big of a role in the outcome.

"To be real honest, we've struggled with power running teams all year," he explained. "So it's going to be a huge challenge to our front seven, to see if we can slow them down running the ball. If they have a lot of success running the ball, it'll probably be a long day for us."

Whittingham agreed that other variables could be a factor. He said that "there's many more dynamics" than just the good matchup between Georgia Tech's rushing offense and Utah's defense.

"There's going to be a lot of other things," Whittingham pointed out. "Special teams is always a big factor. For us, that's something we place a great deal of emphasis on and so that's got to be something that we play well in that phase."

Then there's the offense. Whittingham re-emphasized the need to control the football and win the turnover margin.

Anything, as the Utes can attest this season, can happen.

"You never know," Whittingham said. "We'll just have to see how it goes"

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