No. 10 Utah keeps BCS bowl hopes intact
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP)—Utah is still undefeated and on track for its second BCS bowl bid in four years. The Utes could care less about style points.
“It doesn’t matter to me one bit, don’t care,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in response to how Utah’s unimpressive 13-10 win Saturday over unheralded New Mexico might impact his team’s standing among the BCS elite.
Louie Sakoda kicked two field goals and Utah scored it’s only touchdown off a little trickery.
Utah (9-0, 5-0 MWC) struggled much of the night on offense the Utes came into the game averaging a conference best 39 points a game but the defense made up for it with key stops. The last two stopped Lobo drives at midfield, one on downs with 3:46 left in the game and the other as time ran out.
The first Lobo drive ended when quarterback Brad Gruner threw incomplete on third-and-3. New Mexico coach Rocky Long said that play was the decisive one.
“The game was won or lost on fourth-and-three at the 50 yard line,” Long said. “That was my call, but right or wrong, it was time to decide who was going to win the game.”
While the Lobos played with plenty of heart, the Utes came up with just enough offense to dodge the upset.
“We came out with a win, but we know we can play a lot better,” said Utah quarterback Brian Johnson. “We have to do a better job of eliminating errors.” Those errors included a muffed punt, a late interception that killed a potential touchdown drive and untimely penalties on both sides of the ball. But in the end, the Utes’ 10 straight win was the bottom line.
“We’re just going about the business of winning games,” Whittingham said.
New Mexico (4-6, 2-4 MWC ) gave the heavily favored Utes all they could handle and stayed within upset range late into the game behind a 10-yard touchdown run by Rodney Ferguson and a 38-yard James Aho field goal.
“Our players have a competitive heart,” Long said. They wanted to win just as bad as Utah and they don’t have near as much to play for.”
Sakoda, the leading scorer on a Utah team loaded with playmakers, connected from 43 and 38 yards and has yet to miss this season (14-of-14) from inside 47 yards. The Utes got their only touchdown when Johnson threw a short pass to wide receiver Jereme Brooks, who then lateralled to Brent Casteel to complete the 7-yard scoring play with 3:23 left in the third quarter.
New Mexico came right back with a 9-play, 80-yard drive, with Ferguson and quarterback Gruner taking turns finding holes in Utah’s front line. Ferguson scored on the final play of the third quarter after the Lobos caught a break.
Ferguson fumbled at the Utah 10 and Ute cornerback Sean Smith recovered it. But the officials reversed the initial call, ruling the Lobo halfback was down before the ball came loose. Utah lost a chance to gain some breathing room when Lobo defensive back DeAndre Wright intercepted a Johnson pass in the end zone on the Utes’s ensuing drive.
Wright got inside position on wide receiver Freddie Brown to kill an impressive Utah drive that started on the Utes’ 5-yard and included three plays of 20 yards or more.
Utah is 9-0 for only the second time in school history. The other was the 2004 team that beat Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl and finished 12-0.
New Mexico’s defense repeatedly blitzed Johnson and it kept the Utes’ offense off stride most of the night. Sakoda’s 38-yarder as time expired gave Utah a 6-3 lead at halftime, the fewest points the Utes have scored in the first half this season.
Aho’s field goal finished off New Mexico’s only sustained drive in the first half as the Lobos drove from their 19 to the Utah 21. The Lobos missed a scoring opportunity when Aho’s 41-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter was blocked by Aiona Key.