Georgia Tech to play Utah in Sun Bowl

Georgia Tech will make a run for the border.

The Yellow Jackets accepted an invitation Sunday night to play Utah in the Dec. 31 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. It will be Tech’s 15th consecutive bowl trip.

“Our team is excited for the opportunity to play in the Hyundai Sun Bowl,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said in a statement. “Our players worked hard this season and we’re excited to have another game to play.”

Tech had been the stated preference of Sun Bowl officials even prior to its loss to Georgia in the final regular-season game. Sun Bowl official Bernie Olivas, who had the third pick of ACC teams after the BCS bowls, said the Jackets offered an exciting brand of football and a national name. He was quick to scoop up the Jackets when the Chick-fil-A Bowl took Virginia and the Champs Sports Bowl selected Florida State.

The game offers a few incentives for the Jackets, who will begin bowl practice on Monday. First, they can end their six-game bowl losing streak. Ironically, it was the Utes who started the slide, beating the Jackets 38-10 in the 2005 Emerald Bowl in San Francisco. Second, the Jackets have a chance to finish in the final poll of the season.

It will be Tech’s second game against Utah and 13th against a team from the expanded Pac-12. Tech is 5-7 all-time against Arizona, Cal, Stanford and Utah.

The Utes won four of their last five to finish at 7-5 and 4-5 in conference play. In the final regular-season game, when a win would have sent the Utah to the Pac-12 championship game, the Utes lost 17-14 to Colorado, which had previously lost 23 consecutive road games.

“We’re excited,” Olivas said Sunday night. “People are going to see two different styles of football, both of which are very productive.”

The Jackets will face a stout defensive unit. Utah is ranked No. 7 in rushing defense, No. 18 in scoring defense and No. 23 in pass efficiency defense. Running back John White is No. 11 in the country at 117.0 rushing yards per game.

Utah has been known for running a spread offense, but moved to a West Coast offense this year with new offensive coordinator Norm Chow. The Utes put up 54 points on BYU in September but averaged a modest 24.6 points per game.

The game has sold out four of the past seven years, Olivas said, averaging more than 52,000 for the past 10 years in the 51,500-seat Sun Bowl Stadium. Tech will be allotted 8,000 tickets. It’s not an easy trip from Atlanta. It’s a 1,400-mile drive. Sunday night, the cheapest available flight on travel website kayak.com leaving Dec. 27 and returning Jan. 1 was $470.

El Paso sits on the U.S.-Mexico border and at the western tip of Texas, bordering New Mexico.