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The Last Time We Met the Utes: 2005 Emerald Nuts Bowl

On November 22nd, 2005 the Utah Utes accepted their invitation to play in the Emerald Nuts Bowl in San Francisco, California. The Utes were coming off a less than stellar 6-5 season but had just knocked off instate archrival BYU 41-34 in Provo 3 days earlier. The BYU game was the final game of Kyle Whittingham's first complete season in Utah following the 2004 departure of head coach Urban Meyer to the University of Florida. The Utes would not know their actual bowl opponent for another twelve days.

Georgia Tech received its invitation to play in the Emerald Nuts Bowl on December 4th, 2005. In case you forgot, Tech's last offensive play of the 2005 regular season was Damarius Bilbo running a post instead of a curl and Reggie Ball darting a ball straight into Tim Jennings' awaiting arms with 1:11 left to play. Tech dropped the last regular season game of 2005 to Georgia 14-7. Needless to say, there was not a lot of excitement going into bowl season.

Tech fans, upon hearing the match up, thought that Utah would be an easy Tulsa or Syracuse-esque walk in the park. The Utes, in fact, had already dropped a game to UNC in Chapel Hill while Tech handled the Heels in the same season giving Tech fans more optimism. Chan Gailey was a little more cautious, if not prophetic:
"They've got a good football team,...In four of their five losses, they were ahead at some point. They could have easily won nine or 10 games. They're a very strong football team. They lost some players from last year, but they're still a strong football team...They're a lot more wide open offensively than anybody we've played. They use a lot of weapons, motion, different personnel groupings."
While Tech was laden with seniors and veteran starters, Utah had a huge question mark at quarterback. Brian Johnson (the guy who would lead them to a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama) was out with a knee injury and his backup Brett Ratliff had to make his second career start against Tech's vaunted defense. Prior to this game, Jon Tenuta's Tech defenses had never lost to a starting quarterback with less than 3 starts.

The game was played on December 29th, 2005 in front of 25,742 fans. And I'm pretty sure those 25,742 were not prepared for the fireworks show Utah put on. In the opening possession Utah marched down the field on a 76 yard drive culminated by a 14 yard touchdown pass from Ratliff to Travis LaTendresse. LaTendresse ended the game with 214 yards receiving and 4 touchdown passes. His quarterback had 30 completions for 381 total yards while Georgia Tech's woeful offense only produced 10 points total and 385 yards of total offense.

The average Utah scoring drive only took two minutes and five seconds against the most unmotivated Georgia Tech defense since 2002's UGA game. Jon Tenuta's defense at Tech would go on to only allow four teams out of the seventy seven different offenses faced from 2002-2007 to score more points than Utah did on that day in 2005. BlockU cited this game as one of the top 10 games of the decade for the Utah program and the best line from their recap came from Kyle Whittingham:
"We had so many guys making plays today, it was unbelievable. Georgia Tech was a quality football team, and not only did we beat them, we dominated them."