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FIESTA BOWL 12-0 Utah says goodbye to Meyer



Published: Mon, January 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Outgoing Pitt coach Walt Harris admitted his team didn't match up physically.

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Urban Meyer paused a few times to collect himself.

Saying goodbye was hard enough. Doing so after a 12-0 season was almost too much. The fifth-ranked Utes sent Meyer to his new job at Florida with one last nearly perfect performance, beating Pittsburgh 35-7 Saturday night in the Fiesta Bowl.

"All the speaking, all the work, all of the people -- just trying to get them interested in Utah football. And we've done that," Meyer said. "There's an interest in Utah football."

Like never before.

The first team from a non-BCS conference to play in a Bowl Championship Series game didn't disappoint against the Big East champion Panthers (8-4), scoring on half of its 10 possessions. Utah will be one of at most three unbeaten teams in Division I-A.

In just two seasons, Meyer took the Utes from a group that underachieved under former coach Ron McBride to the elite of college football.

"Going undefeated is hard to do. There's a lot of good football teams out there," Meyer said.

The Utes had to fight the system and their low profile throughout the season, falling out of the top six spots they needed in the Bowl Championship Series standings briefly but securing a berth in one of the four big-money games with an 11-0 regular season.

No answers

And the 12th victory was the ideal ending. Pittsburgh had no answers for Utah's spread offense, which overloaded the Panthers with options, shovel passes and deep routes. Alex Smith, Utah's first Heisman Trophy finalist, picked apart Pitt by completing 29 of 37 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns.

He also ran the option with just as much precision, gaining 68 yards on 15 carries to lead Utah to 467 yards.

"This last season, every time at the opening of the game some defense has some brand new scheme for us, and it became pretty obvious pretty quick that Pitt was going to pressure us and crowd the line of scrimmage," said Smith, who might decide to skip his senior season and head to the NFL.

"So when they are going to do that with this offense, you're going to have some big plays. Luckily, the guys around me made it so easy on me."

Smith certainly didn't hurt his draft status Saturday, completing 78 percent of his passes and not turning the ball over.

Bowl record

Paris Warren caught a Fiesta Bowl-record 15 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

His second score came off a lateral from Steve Savoy, who caught a screen pass from Smith and pitched it to Warren coming around the left side.

The Panthers never saw it coming -- much like the rest of Utah's attack.

"They dropped a lot of people back and tried keep everything in front of them. We just took advantage of what they gave us," Warren said.

Pitt fell into the same situation most of Utah's opponents did this season: falling behind early and trying to rally. The Panthers made it tougher on themselves by offering little protection for quarterback Tyler Palko.

The Utes sacked Palko nine times, another Fiesta record, and held Pitt to just one touchdown -- a 31-yard pass from Palko to Greg Lee that cut the lead to 28-7.

Harris' finale

It was not such a great sendoff for Pitt coach Walt Harris, who is leaving to take over Stanford.

"They are a very good, very explosive team and it was a tough game for us," Harris said. "We did not match up physically the way we needed to in order to stay in it offensively."

Saturday's sendoff turned into a party for Utah fans, who made up at least 75 percent of the sellout crowd of 73,519 at Sun Devil Stadium, giving it a red hue.

Utah hadn't gone unbeaten and untied since 1930.

So Meyer's farewell message was simple: Enjoy it.

"It was a great game against a very good team and I told our players," Meyer said, before pausing briefly. "People can take a lot from you; they can never take the fact that you're 12-0."




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