Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2001 | 9:07 a.m.
Utah tailback Dameon Hunter and USC safety Troy Polamalu were named game MVPs for their respective teams Tuesday:
Ron McBride called Utah's 10-6 upset of USC in Tuesday afternoon's Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium a "statement day" for the young Mountain West Conference.
"This is huge," McBride said after his Utes (8-4), third-place finishers in the Mountain West, manhandled the Trojans (6-6), fifth-place finishers in the higher profile Pac-10 Conference, before a Christmas Day crowd of 22,385. "This is a statement day for the Mountain West Conference. This is a huge (nationally televised) game and it's on ESPN radio all over the world. This is a big-time win not just for us but also the Mountain West."
The contest was not anywhere near as close as the final score might indicate, as the final stats point out so vividly:
"The thing that I feared the most was that they would come in here and run the football at us, hold onto the ball and use the clock up," first-year USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "And they were able to do that."
And able to do it without their best offensive lineman, senior left tackle Doug Kaufusi, a first team all-Mountain West Conference pick who sat out the game because of legal problems, and starting defensive nose guard Ma'ake Kemoeatu.
Senior tailbacks Adam Tate (103 yards on 23 carries, 1 TD) and Dameon Hunter (94 yards on 17 carries) had big games for the Utes, who led 10-0 at halftime and then held on after the Trojans cut the deficit to 10-6 on a two-yard touchdown run by tailback Sunny Bird to cap a 12-play, 80-yard drive on the first possession of the second half.
But Utah's defense, led by linebacker Sheldon Deckart (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and former Cimarron star Arnold Parker (5 tackles), limited the Trojans to just three more first downs and 62 yards over the final 25 minutes to seal the victory.
"They took it to us today," said USC offensive tackle Jacob Rogers.
"USC had only one yard (rushing)? ... That's sweet," Deckart said, laughing. "We knew we had to come out with intensity and knock out their run game. But we didn't expect a one-yard rushing performance. It was a great game by our defense."
"Never in my biggest dreams did I think that would happen," McBride said about USC's one-yard rushing total. "But this team was determined and paid attention to business."
It was a team that was even more determined to make a statement after the comments of Carroll and some Trojan football players at Sunday night's Buffet Bowl and pep rally at the Fremont Street Experience.
"At the pep rally (Carroll) told us he was going to beat us, flat out," Ute offensive tackle Jordan Gross said. "That kind of challenged us a little bit. I wonder what he's thinking now."
"(Carroll) said, 'We're going to come down here and beat you' -- something like that," Deckart said. "He was pretty serious about it. ... Throughout the week we got the impression that they kind of looked by us, that they didn't think that we'd put up the kind of fight that we did."
McBride, who said he couldn't hear exactly what Carroll said to upset his squad -- "I was kind of in the back and I can't hear that well" -- said his team definitely was angered by USC's lack of respect at the outing.
"Those guys kind of made fun of us," McBride said. "They were chanting, 'Mountain West sucks!' and stuff like that. And then (Carroll) walked up there and said something like they were going to kick our butt. I don't think our team liked that."
"That rallied us up for sure," Gross said. "(Carroll) said that right to our face. I love it when people have to eat crow, and that's just what he's doing right now. He's got his foot in his mouth."
Two more feet and he can match USC's rushing total for Las Vegas Bowl X.
"I think they saw Mountain West and they thought they could come out and blow us over," Gross said. "It feels good to beat them. I think the whole country knows now that the Mountain West is a pretty good football conference."