Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington takes a shotgun snap during practice Tuesday Dec. 27, 2011 at Burges High School in El Paso, Texas. Georgia Tech is preparing for its Sun Bowl game against Utah on Dec. 31. (AP Photo/El Paso Times, Victor Calzada)
EL PASO, Texas -- At least Kyle Whittingham has some experience in preparing for challenging offenses.
The Utah coach who sees the Air Force option every season has spent the past few weeks trying to figure out schemes to slow down Georgia Tech, which comes into today's Sun Bowl with the nation's third-ranked rushing attack.
"They have one of the best rushing offenses in the country, so we definitely have our work cut out for us," he said. "They have a lot of great players; the quarterback is really the catalyst for what they're doing. He leads the team in rushing, and is very efficient when he throws the ball as well. They have a big time receiver who's catching 30 yards a catch. I've never seen such a thing."
The Yellow Jackets average 316.8 yards rushing and 35 points per game running their triple option. The Utah defense has allowed only 97 rushing yards per game this season, seventh-best in the country, with defensive lineman Star Lotulelei leading the way for the Utes.
"You can pick out any game and you pull it out, (Lotulelei is) in the backfield," said Brian Bohannon, Georgia Tech's backfield coach. "He's a heck of a player. He's a difference maker."
The two teams are looking for some momentum after disappointing seasons.
After starting 6-0, Georgia Tech (8-4) faltered and put up wins against only Clemson and Duke in going 2-4. The Yellow Jackets are making their 15th straight appearance in a bowl game, but they have lost six straight. Their last win came in the 2004 Champs Sports Bowl, a 51-14 romp over Syracuse.
"We are looking forward for the chance to play in a bowl game," coach Paul Johnson said. "We haven't had a lot of success in the past couple years and we are happy to have the chance to play again."
Utah had a much different season.
The Utes (7-5) lost five games in the early going of their first year in the Pac-12, including four to conference foes. They also lost quarterback Jordan Wynn for the season to a shoulder injury sustained against Washington on Oct. 1.
Utah, however, won four straight and had an opportunity to win the Pac-12 South before a loss to fellow league newcomer Colorado.
Whittingham is 6-1 in bowls, and he has been busy with his staff looking at the Georgia Tech attack in hopes of putting up another victory.
The Yellow Jackets have three career 1,000-yard rushers in senior running back Roddy Jones (1,826 yards), junior quarterback Tevin Washington (1,444) and junior running back Orwin Smith (1,158). Senior running back Embry Peeples comes in with 976 career yards.
On offense, Utah will look to running back John White IV, who ranks 10th nationally in rushing (117.0 ypg) and has accumulated 1,404 yards and 14 touchdowns. He could find room against Georgia Tech, which has allowed a 100-yard rusher five times this season.
"He's a very slithery guy, quick with his cuts, hard to get a direct hit on him," Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh said of White. "Normally, yards after contact with running backs is associated with big backs, those backs who lower their shoulders, knock the defenders over, drag them for three, four more yards. This player is notable in that there's a lot of yards after contact because the contact is very glancing because he is skittery."
Georgia Tech and Utah have met only once, a 38-10 victory for the Utes in the 2005 Emerald Bowl.