Coach Ron McBride holds the Las Vegas Bowl trophy Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2001, after Utah beat Southern California 10-6.
Dec. 25, 2001
LAS VEGAS - With a methodical rushing attack and an overwhelming defensive effort, Utah won the Las Vegas Bowl exactly the way Ron McBride always hoped his team would play this season.
Adam Tate rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown, and Utah's defense limited USC to 1 yard rushing as the Utes cleaned up in Las Vegas for the second time in three years, beating the Trojans 10-6 Tuesday.
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"We were under a lot of criticism for the Air Force and BYU games, but adversity is what I like," McBride said. "I was determined that we were going to come down here and win this game. We needed this. We played with the ultimate determination today."
The Utes (8-4) won with their defense, which embarrassed USC's strong offense. The Trojans (6-6), who had their four-game winning streak snapped, finished with 151 total yards.
After scoring its only touchdown on the first possession of the second half, USC didn't get across the Utah 40 for the rest of the day as linebacker Sheldon Deckart and the Utes' defense, missing two starters, still dominated.
"We let them come right at us, and we stopped them," Deckart said. "It was a big part of our game plan to make big plays, and then keep making big plays."
Southern California, which entered the game hoping to build for a run at the Pacific-10 title next season, instead found nearly its every move thwarted by a Utah game plan that seemed to anticipate every trick in coach Pete Carroll's store.
The Trojans didn't manage to accumulate positive rushing yardage until midway through the fourth quarter. Carson Palmer, who was 15-of-26 for 150 yards, missed open receivers and saw other passes dropped.
"I don't think they thought we were comparable to them," McBride said. "They didn't think we were in the same league. They were destroying teams in the last five weeks of the season ... but it's a funny game."
Despite going scoreless in the second half, Utah converted two long third downs in the final 3:30 to run out the clock.
On third-and-14 from the Utes' 9 with 3:30 left, quarterback Lance Rice hit Michael Richardson for a 20-yard reception. Facing third-and-4 a minute later, Tate bounced off several defenders for a 16-yard run that essentially sealed it.
When Tate surged for yet another first down with 1:30 left, the Utes began to celebrate Utah's third bowl victory in six trips during his 12 years in charge. The Utes beat Fresno State in Las Vegas in 1999.
Tate and Dameon Hunter, who rushed for 94 yards to win Utah's MVP award, were two of the first players to hug McBride after the final snap.
Moved to Christmas Day to capitalize on a captive TV audience, the game was expected to draw a tiny crowd to Sam Boyd Stadium. Instead, 30,984 locals and fans of both teams filled the stadium, improbably setting a new attendance record for the 10-year-old bowl.
The fans and the television audience didn't see a telegenic game, but the Utes didn't mind at all.
Utah scored its only touchdown on its second possession. Tate, the bigger back in the Utes' massive tailback tandem, bulled in on a 3-yard run.
The Trojans played dismally while going scoreless in the first half. Thanks to an amazing series of sacks and tackles behind the line by Deckart and the Utes' aggressive linebackers, USC had minus-53 yards rushing in the first half - and just 15 total yards.
"We didn't play the game we wanted to at all," said Carroll, who got a jarring end to his first season at USC. "We seemed to find some rhythm eventually, but we didn't get into the game. They really pressured us a lot on first down. We were trying to throw the ball, but they were better at it than we were."
Even kicker David Davis had his string of 12 straight field goals snapped when he was left and short on a 47-yard attempt 3:28 before halftime. Utah pulled ahead 10-0 on Ryan Kaneshiro's 26-yard field goal three minutes later.
But USC woke up briefly, driving 80 yards to open the second half and scoring on Sunny Byrd's 1-yard run. Both defenses then began to dominate once again, with the Trojans led by 20 tackles from team MVP Troy Polamalu.
Even after a phenomenal game, Polamalu lamented the mistakes he made.
"If we don't let them score, then we win the game," Polamalu said. "There were plenty of opportunities for me to make the plays, and I didn't come through. They took it to us."
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer