Game guide: Utes not looking ahead

With the non-conference schedule in its rear view mirrors, the No. 9 U football team (6-0, 2-0 conference) begins a five-game stretch against Mountain West Conference opponents when they take on the UNLV Rebels (2-5, 1-2) Saturday evening at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The game is set to kick off at 5 p.m. MDT and will be televised locally on KJZZ.

The Utes, ranked for the first time ever in the Bowl Championship Series standings, achieved a non-BCS conference best when they received a BCS debut ranking of No. 7 on Monday. No team from a non-BCS conference has ever qualified for a BCS bowl berth.

And with a chance to make history, it is U coach Urban Meyer who insists that his team not discuss the BCS situation. Meyer’s concern is UNLV, and he is making sure his team members understands that they must remain focused on the task at hand, rather than worrying about something beyond their control.

“As long as the weatherman is telling the truth, the weather should be fine,” Meyer said. “So that’s one thing we won’t have to worry about.”

This week’s matchup offers a perfect example of a time when the Utes might get a little ahead of themselves. Facing a team tied for sixth place in the MWC standings and favored by 24 points by the Las Vegas oddsmakers, it would be easy for the U to take the Rebels lightly, thereby shooting themselves in the foot.

The Rebels, despite only two wins on the year, are exactly the type of team that could give the Utes trouble.

Although the Rebels have struggled this year, losing games to the likes of Utah State, they are one of the hotter teams other than the Utes in the MWC. The Rebels have won two of their last three, and would be on a three-game winning streak were it not for a fumble late in the fourth quarter last weekend against New Mexico, a game the Rebels lost 24-20.

UNLV is unlikely to be intimidated by the Utes, though they have never defeated the U in the history of the MWC, because they have already faced two nationally ranked teams.

Coached by one of the greatest college football coaches of all time, former USC coach John Robinson, UNLV is not a team to be taken lightly.

Just ask BYU, a team that seemed to be on its way to a 2-0 mark in conference play when they ran into a Rebel squad with just one win. UNLV emerged victorious in that game by a score of 21-20, proving that the Rebels can compete with anyone in the conference. Meyer said that he has a great deal of respect for Robinson, and knows that UNLV would love to be the spoiler of the Utes’ perfect season.

Not only is UNLV well-coached, but also an even bigger problem for the Utes is the Rebels’ dynamic rushing attack. The feature player for the Rebels is senior running back Dominique Dorsey. Dorsey stands only 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs only 170 pounds, but his ability to find the opening in the line seems almost intuitive. His size often works to his advantage, as opposing linemen and linebackers commonly have trouble locating the diminutive back before it’s too late. Since the Achilles heel of the Ute defense is its inability to stop the run, Dorsey is poised to give the U fits.

This year Dorsey has already faced top-tier defenses in Tennessee and Wisconsin, and with four 100-yard rushing performances already under his belt this season, as well as a 94-yard effort in the Rebels’ upset of BYU, Dorsey sits atop the MWC’s rushing yards standings. Dorsey, who is also ranked first in the MWC in total yards per game including his play as a kick returner, averages almost 110 rushing yards per game. Given the Utes’ propensity to allow more rushing yards than they should, he will likely be the focus of UNLV’s gameplan this Saturday.

“We need to kick the ball off better,” coach Urban Meyer said. “He returned one for 60 yards against Tennessee, so that’s something that should be addressed.”

Dorsey is not the only offensive weapon UNLV will use, however, as they also have one of the top receivers in the conference in senior Earvin Johnson.

Johnson is currently ranked fourth for both career receptions and career receiving yards in MWC history.

And with four games still left in his senior year, he has the chance to move even higher in those rankings.

The Rebels have the weapons to compete with the Utes, but if Meyer can keep his team focused, the U should be able to take advantage of the skills of quarterback Alex Smith and the conference’s top-ranked defense to keep the Rebels at bay.

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