Previously strong run defense can’t get it done

As the final seconds ticked off the game clock Saturday afternoon, the blank look of disbelief on Urban Meyer’s face said it all.

A devastating 28-point assault by the Lobos in the third quarter would have been enough to make Meyer despondent, but the complete breakdown by the defensive line throughout Saturday’s bloodbath was enough to leave him nearly speechless.

“I’m not quite sure what that was,” Meyer said. “The way we played-it’s not the way we train, it’s not the way we practice, it’s not the way we work. That was not Utah defense.”

By the end of a game that became unwatchable for Ute fans, the once-strong, Kyle Willingham-led defense had yielded an embarrassing 407 rushing yards on 60 rushes. New Mexico averaged almost seven yards per rush as the Utah defense floundered for most of the afternoon.

Two Lobo backs, DonTrell Moore and D.D. Cox, eclipsed the 100-yard mark. A third, fullback Adrian Byrd, nearly reached the same plateau, finishing with 98 yards on the ground.

Adding insult to injury, the quarterback, Casey Kelly, scrambled for 68 yards of his own.

Prior to Saturday’s game, the Utes were giving up a stingy 104.1 rushing yards per game, which at the time was good for second in the conference (New Mexico was and still is No. 1 in the conference in that category).

Saturday’s game dropped the Utah squad to fifth in the MWC, now giving up more than 142 yards per game.

The final stats gave hard proof to what every fan already knew as they solemnly filed out of the stadium, many making their way out of Rice-Eccles Stadium in the early minutes of the fourth quarter.

“We got dominated on both sides of the ball,” said one fan making an early exit.

“A Utah fan can only handle so much,” said another Ute loyalist, also on the path leading out of the stadium.

The talk after the game among Utah players was of regrouping and moving beyond the brutal loss. With another critical conference matchup coming up next week at Air Force, there won’t be much time for the team to figure out what went wrong.

With Halloween drawing nigh, it seems appropriate to mention the eerie similarities to what happened in 1996.

Prior to this week, the last time the Utes received a national ranking was in 1996, when they suffered a horrible 51-10 loss to Rice. Saturday’s game marked not only Utah’s first game as a ranked team since that game, but it was also the team’s worst defensive breakdown since that game.

With the problem of being nationally ranked now conveniently solved, the Utes may find it easier to refocus their energy to make a run at the conference championship.

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