NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Out of their element, out of their league - and still perfect.
and seventh-ranked Utah came down from the mountains to SEC country and established themselves as the best of the BCS busters,
finishing 13-0 with a convincing 31-17 win over No. 4 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Friday night.
Johnson threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns on his way to being selected the game's most outstanding player, a fitting
finish to the career of Utah's winningest quarterback (26-7).
Utah became the first team from a non-BCS conference to win two BCS bowls. The Utes beat Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl
under coach Urban Meyer, going for his second BCS national title with Florida when his Gators play Oklahoma on Thursday in
Yet, after winning the Mountain West Conference, the Utes were left out of the BCS national championship game in favor of
perennial powers Florida and Oklahoma, even though both have one loss.
That's bound to bring more calls for changes to the BCS system, because Utah showed it could do more than just hang with the
big boys, it could dominate one of them.
''I know where I'm voting us. I'm voting us No. 1. End of story,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said afterward.
''I don't know why they wouldn't deserve that consideration,'' he added later. ''Somebody has to explain to me why they wouldn't.
There is only one undefeated team in the United States of America right now in Division I football, and it's these guys right
Utah's only chance for a piece of the national title - albeit a remote possibility - is in The Associated Press poll. The
AP, not part of the BCS, awards its own national champion.
The Utes are the only team in the AP Top 25 that remains unbeaten.
''What else do we have to prove?'' Johnson said. ''Without question, we're one of best, if not the best team in the country.''
Johnson was 27-of-41 and was not intercepted, and the Utes took charge from the start by bolting to a stunning, 21-0 first-quarter
lead. When Alabama pulled to 21-17 early in the second half, the Utes refused to wilt.
Utah's defense was equally impressive, intercepting
John Parker Wilson
twice and sacking him eight times, with the seventh sack forcing a fumble that sent crimson-clad Alabama fans streaming for
the exits with just more than five minutes remaining.
After surging to No. 1 in the rankings with a 12-0 regular season, Alabama closed with two consecutive losses, the first against
Florida in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Following that first loss, Saban noted that his club still was the only team to have an undefeated regular season in a ''real
The comment wasn't aimed specifically at the Utes, but it clearly motivated them.
''From my perspective, I was angry, not just because of what Saban said but everything that was out there,'' Johnson said.
''I just felt like we were being completely disrespected.''
Johnson and the rest of the Utes played with an angry edge, much to Saban's chagrin.
''I apologize if anybody was offended by that. We had a tremendous amount of respect for Utah,'' Saban said. ''I certainly
misstated that. ... So if that's what gave them all their intensity, then I guess I'm responsible for the way they played
and I'm responsible for the way we played.''
Alabama could have used suspended All-America left tackle
, but even he might not have been enough to stop a Utah defense that played with speed, ferocity and discipline.
The Utes' front seven was significantly outweighed by Alabama's offensive line, but refused to give ground to the Tide's normally
powerful running game that averaged 196.5 yards per game coming into the Sugar Bowl.
was held to 36 yards on 13 carries, while
rushed eight times for only 26 yards.
The Utes' array of stunts and blitzes appeared to upset Wilson's rhythm. He overthrew a couple of open receivers downfield
and finished 18-of-30 for 177 yards and a touchdown
Utah didn't seem very interested in running the ball, and who could blame them the way Johnson adeptly spread the ball around
to seven receivers? He hit
12 times for 125 yards.
Johnson's touchdowns went for 7 yards to
, 18 yards to
and 28 yards to
ran for a 2-yard TD, a score set up by Reed's leaping catch at the 2.
An Alabama comeback appeared to be building early in the second half, when Dont'a Hightower stripped Johnson, and
recovered at the Utah 30. Wilson methodically drove the Tide for a score, hitting Coffee for an easy 4-yard score on a rollout
to close the gap to 21-17.
At the point, Alabama had scored 17 straight points, and it appeared to be only a matter of time before the Tide, favored
by more than a touchdown, would overtake the underdog Utes.
Johnson had other ideas, opening Utah's next drive with a 33-yard pass over the middle to Brown. The completion kick-started
a 71-yard scoring drive that ended with Reed's touchdown.
The Tide drove right back into Utah territory, but Ingram was stuffed for no gain on third-and-2 from the Utah 32. Leigh Tiffen
then missed his second long field goal of the game, hooking a 49-yarder just left of the upright.
Only a year ago, the Sugar Bowl saw its first BCS buster in Hawaii, which took a 41-10 beating from Georgia.
Utah calmly dismissed any comparisons to last year's game during the lead-up to the game, and wasted no time proving it on
Utah's 21-0 lead, the largest deficit the Tide faced all season, stood until Tiffin hit a 52-yard field goal on the first
play of the second quarter. Alabama did not score an offensive TD in the half, but pulled to 21-10 when
returned a punt 73 yards for a score.
''They jumped ahead of us early in the game. I don't think we gave them their due respect coming into the game,'' Coffee said.
''That's something we never should have allowed to happen.''