Utes, Trojans meet in Las Vegas Bowl

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Sports Editor

People in Troy wanting to cheer for some Trojans need only look to today’s Las Vegas Bowl offering featuring the University of Southern California (6-5 overall, 5-3 Pac-10) and Utah (7-4, 4-3 Mountain West).

The Trojans of USC were able to sneak into the Los Vegas Bowl with four straight wins, ending the year on a high note 27-0 over cross-city rival UCLA. USC was 2-5 at one point, dropping games to bowl teams Kansas State, Oregon, Stanford and Washington, all by a combined total of 14 points.

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One of the Trojans’ main weapons is quarterback Carson Palmer, who finished the year second in the Pac-10 in passing with 2,572 yards to his credit. Kareem Kelly is Palmer’s main target (768 yards, 16.7 per catch), but USC isn’t powerful out of the backfield with its leading rusher, Sultan McCullough, totalling only 410 yards on the ground this season.

"We hadn’t played good football," Carroll told the Las-Vegas Review Journal about his team’s poor start. "And we were still close in the games against good teams. We’ve really played a lot better and a lot more consistently in key areas. We’ve been really good in getting turnovers and really good in penalties, good in the kicking game…I know we’re building a champion. These guys that have played this season have set the foundation."

Ron McBride is finishing out his 12th season with the Utes. Last year, following a 4-7 campaign, the talk in Salt Lake City was that McBride may not survive until next year. That all disappeared when Utah hung tough with Top-5 Oregon, beat Big 10 Indiana and came within six points of winning the Mountain West title, (Utah lost to Brigham Young 24-21, Colorado State 19-17, and Air Force 38-37, in conference games).

After the fans preseason grumbling, maybe that’s why McBride is just elated to be in any bowl game, including the one in "Sin City".

"This is the game we wanted all along," he said. "It’s our No. 1 choice. We get to play a Pac-10 school that’s playing good football right now. Our fans can really get excited about a name opponent like USC."

And they should.

Or else.

"I’m going to kick everybody in the butt in Utah to get here," said McBride. "I’ll make them all feel guilty if they don’t leave their Christmas tree and come to the game."

McBride shouldn’t worry.

Las Vegas is just a five-hour drive from Salt Lake City. Two years ago, Utah drew 11,000 fans to the Las Vegas Bowl in a meeting with Fresno State. Utah won the game 17-16.

The Utes feature the Mountain West’s third-leading rusher in running back Dameon Hunter (1,396 yards), but are not one-dimensional. Quarterback Lance Rice threw for 2,061 yards during the regular season.

Utah averaged over 218 yards per game on the ground, while USC averaged just over 95.

These two teams last met in the 1993 Freedom Bowl with the Trojans claiming a 28-21 victory.