ATLANTA -- It will be strength against strength when Georgia Tech meets Utah in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
The ACC and the Pac-12, the two conferences involved, formalized the decision Sunday, as each completed their seasons during the weekend. The Sun Bowl had to wait for the Alamo Bowl and Holiday Bowl to make their choices; the Alamo chose Washington and the Holiday selected California. The Champ Sports Bowl chose Florida State over Georgia Tech, leaving the Yellow Jackets headed for El Paso.
The Sun Bowl had been actively seeking Georgia Tech for the past month.
“Our team is excited for the opportunity to play in the Hyundai Sun Bowl,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “Our players worked hard this season and we’re excited to have another game to play.
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“We will face a very good Utah team that played its best football down the stretch. (Utah head coach Kyle) Whittingham and his staff do a very good job, and they will be very prepared.”
Georgia Tech takes the nation’s No. 3 ranked rushing offense into the game. The Yellow Jackets (8-4) average 316.8 yards rushing and 459.6 total yards per game.
Utah takes the nation’s No. 8-ranked rushing defense into the contest. The Utes (7-5) allow only 97 yards rushing per game. They also rank 17th in scoring defense (19.67) and No. 30 in total defense (342.75 yards). Utah held six opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing and created 32 turnovers.
“We’re tremendously excited about a great matchup between two great programs from outstanding conferences,” said Mike Rogers, the Sun Bowl Association president.
Georgia Tech’s triple-option running attack is led by quarterback Tevin Washington, who has carried for 890 yards and 14 touchdowns. Tough-running B-back David Sims has 698 yards and seven touchdowns. The A-back corps is deep with Orwin Smith (616 yards, 11 touchdowns), Roddy Jones (438 yards, three touchdowns) and Embry Peeples (422 yards, two touchdowns).
Georgia Tech has played in the Sun Bowl one time, in 1970 when the Yellow Jackets defeated Texas Tech 17-9. Georgia Tech played Utah in the 2005 Emerald Nut Bowl in San Francisco, a game Utah won 38-10.
Utah’s strength comes up front, where defensive linemen Star Lotulelei and Derrick Shelby were both named to the All-Pac-12 first team. Defensive backs Conroy Black and Ryan Lacy, safety Brian Blechen and linebacker Chaz Walker were all honorable mention selections. Lotulelei is widely considered the best nose tackle in the Pac-12. He led the team in tackles for loss, despite being double-teamed on most plays. He also has 38 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
Utah (7-5) will be playing in its 10th bowl game in 11 years, including seven straight since the arrival of Whittingham. The Utes were 4-5 in their first season in the Pac-12, which placed them in the middle of the South Division. They were 3-0 in non-conference games, beating Montana State, Brigham Young and future ACC member Pittsburgh. Utah’s senior class has been one of the most successful in school history with a 40-11 record. One more victory would match the mark set by the 2010 class.