There have been a lot of unusual sightings around El Paso, Texas, this week since Georgia Tech arrived for the Sun Bowl, among them head coach Paul Johnson donning a sombrero and dancing with the bowl queen.
Now the Yellow Jackets would like to do something they’ve not done since 2004 -- win a bowl game.
The Yellow Jackets haven’t won a bowl game since the 2004 Champ Sports Bowl, a 51-14 win over Syracuse. That equates to a six-game postseason losing streak for the Yellow Jackets, including three losses under Johnson.
Johnson downplays his team’s lack of bowl success, saying that he wants to win every game, not just a bowl game. But he’s normally quick to point out his teams at Navy were 2-2 in bowl games and that two of Georgia Tech’s three bowl losses under his watch came against LSU and Iowa, two pretty good teams. He also acknowledges that last year’s loss to Air Force in the Independence Bowl was disappointing.
On Saturday, the Yellow Jackets will try to stop that trend against Utah
“We look forward to having a chance to play in a bowl game,” Johnson said. “You never know until you play. This is been a fun group to coach. I feel good where we are. We’ve worked hard. We’ll find out how good we are.”
Georgia Tech has been to a bowl game every year since 1997, a 15-year stretch that includes a 38-10 loss to Utah in the 2005 Emerald Bowl. That’s the only time the teams have played.
“We’re looking forward to playing a quality opponent. They’re a strong football team,” Johnson said. “A lot of their strengths coincide with the strengths of our football team, so it ought to be an interesting matchup.”
It may also be one of the quickest in the bowl season. Utah doesn’t run the ball as much as Georgia Tech; the Utes average 137.1 yards per game on 440 total rushing attempts this season. Georgia Tech averages 316.8 yards on 661 attempts. And while Georgia Tech mixes its rushes between an army of assorted backs, the focal point for Utah is John White, who carries 24 times per game. White has gained 1,404 yards and scored 14 touchdowns.
Georgia Tech got some bad news Friday when Johnson said second-team All-America guard Omoregie Uzzi and starting B-Back David Sims were listed as questionable for the game because of injuries.
The Yellow Jackets were already without starting right tackle Phil Smith, who was sent home from El Paso after breaking an undisclosed team rule. Smith will likely be replaced by Tyler Kidney, Ray Beano and Morgan Bailey, but Bailey has been sick with the flu and hasn’t practiced. Smith was the second player suspended for the game; cornerback Louis Young was not allowed to make the trip because of an infraction before the holidays.
Sims will be replaced by Preston Lyons, a senior with the most experience, and redshirt freshman Charles Perkins.
A short-handed offensive line isn’t good news against a strong defensive squad like Utah, which allowed only 97 yards rushing per game. The Utes have an excellent group up front and have a nose for being around the ball.
“Our biggest challenge is to block their down guys,” Johnson said. “And they run well to the ball.”
But don’t expect a change in philosophy, as Johnson said, “We’re going to do what we do.”
Georgia Tech bought 6,500 tickets to present to troops at Fort Bliss. The team spent time touring the base Wednesday and got to test several of the simulators used to train soldiers. Afterwards the players were entertained at a dinner that included the performance of a hypnotist. . . . Georgia Tech’s only other visit to the Sun Bowl was in 1970, a 17-9 win over Texas Tech. Team dentist Aaron King is the only member of the traveling party who attended the previous Sun Bowl.
Georgia Tech vs. Utah
2 p.m., Saturday (CBS)
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Georgia Tech will try to avoid losing its seventh straight bowl game while Utah will look to bounce back after losing to Colorado in the finale of its first season in the Pac-12.
Utah’s rush defense vs. Georgia Tech’s option offense. The Utes surrender 97 yards rushing per game (seventh nationally) and allow 19.7 points per game (18th). But they will be tested by the Yellow Jackets, who are ranked third nationally with 316.8 yards rushing per game and average 35 points (19th).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Georgia Tech: Quarterback Tevin Washington. He has rushed for 890 yards and 14 touchdowns while completing 63-of-135 passes for 1,515 yards and 10 more touchdowns. Linebacker Julian Burnett, a former Westside star, has 113 tackles this season, ranking fifth in the ACC and 32nd nationally. He has double-digit tackles in a game five times this season.
Utah: Running back John White IV has 1,404 yards rushing and 16 total touchdowns (14 rushing, two receiving). Defensive lineman Star Lotulelei is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (nine) despite being double-teamed on most plays.
FACTS & FIGURES
Georgia Tech is playing in the Sun Bowl for the second time but the first since 1970, when the Yellow Jackets won 17-9 against Texas Tech. ... Utah also is making its second appearance in the Sun Bowl. The Utes beat New Mexico 26-0 in 1939. ... Utah is 12-4 in Sun Bowl Stadium (11-4 vs. UTEP, 1-0 vs New Mexico). ... CBS will broadcast the game for the 44th consecutive year, which is the longest running partnership between a bowl game and a network.