Football Is Now Bowl Eligible

Ron McBride wanted to know how his Utah football team would respond to adversity after bumbling its way to a 19 17 defeat Oct. 27 at Colorado State.

It seems the coach has his answer.

This past Saturday against UNLV, the Utes recovered from two Lance Rice interceptions returned for touchdowns in a span of three plays, subsequently reeled off 35 unanswered points, scored a 42-14 victory over the Rebels to improve to 6-2 overall, 3-1 MWC and made themselves eligible for a bowl berth.

After committing a slew of mistakes to cost themselves the games against the Rams a week ago, the Utes seemed poised to blow another one.

Though Utah took a 7-0 lead by marching 80 yards on 14 plays in the opening 7:17 of the game, capping it off with a 1-yard touchdown run by Dameon Hunter, Rice’s miscues put the team in a precarious position.

The first pick was returned 70 yards by Vegas’ Sam Brandon with a second left in the first quarter. Two plays later, Rebel cornerback Kevin Thomas sucked in a deflected Rice attempt and ran it back 24 yards for the touchdown advantage.

If this were the team that stuttered to a 4-7 finish a year ago, such a drastic turn of events might have indicated the end.

Instead, these Utes, living up to their coach’s expectations, simply responded with big plays of their own.

The momentum shifted yet again when Ute special teamer Quincy Watkins slipped inside the blocking formation and stuffed punter John Cook, giving the Utes the ball on the Rebels’ 11-yard line.

Three plays and 56 seconds later, Rice redeemed himself with the first of two touchdown strikes to tight end Michael Richardson on the day, this one a 10-yarder.

Things were relatively straightforward after that.

The latter half was marked by the staples of this year’s U football team: pounding running by Hunter, stout play from the defense, and the occasional timely bombshell.

Hunter racked up his sixth 100-yard game of the year, picking up 137 yards and the touchdown on 31 carries. Meanwhile, the U defense not only did not allow a point, it held a UNLV team fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game (at 250.1) to a paltry 38 yards on 26 carries and just 156 total yards on the afternoon.

Finally, the Utes took the lead for good with a little trickery, as Rice was the recipient of a throwback from Dennis Smith and raced 10 yards untouched into the end zone.

UNLV, the preseason pick to finish second in the MWC, fell to 3-6, 2-3 MWC and dropped from bowl contention.

The Utes, meanwhile, will play their final game at Rice-Eccles Stadium this year this coming Saturday against San Diego State. Utah has not lost a home game yet this season.

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