Child’s play

By and

LOGAN-Throughout more than a century of play, the U football team has dominated its rivalry with in-state foe Utah State, but never has there been a more thorough beating than Saturday night in Logan, when the Utes picked up their first shutout in more than two years in a 48-0 thumping of the Aggies.

The Utes used a thoroughly commanding defensive effort to take away everything the Aggies threw at them; the U defense scored twice on interception returns and held Leon Jackson and the USU offense to just 98 total yards.

“Game ball to the defense tonight?I can’t remember the last time we held an opponent to under 100 yards,” U head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I don’t think I ever did that as defensive coordinator, so that was a great effort.”

It was the defense that set the tone early with senior cornerback Eric Shyne running back a Leon Jackson interception 21 yards for a touchdown to give Utah an early advantage-and the rout was practically on from there. Brett Ratliff and his shorthanded offense did just enough to put points on the board, taking advantage of the good field position afforded them by six Ute takeaways.

Thanks in large part to consistent pressure brought by the Utes’ D-line-one of the team’s strengths all year thus far-Jackson completed just four passes all night as Eric Weddle and the U secondary blanketed the receiving corps, which was already without senior Tony Pennyman, who was kicked off the team last week.

“It was just our night,” Whittingham said. “I have a lot of respect for coach Guy and what he’s doing up here, but we were sharp tonight.”

A major upset wasn’t expected going in since the Aggies had struggled mightily during the first two weeks of the season. Furthermore, Utah State had played the Utes tough over the years, even during last season’s 31-7 loss and a 40-20 defeat in Urban Meyer’s first season at the U.

But the Aggies had little to offer Saturday night, rarely making it past midfield and failing to put much pressure on the U offense. Even during the two times Jackson did lead the club into Ute territory, the Aggies did nothing with it, punting the first time and turning the ball over on a fumble the second.

“It was beautiful,” linebacker Stevenson Sylvester said. “Coach (Gary) Anderson said we needed this bad, we needed better defensive consistency than what we had before. We just brought it today.”

While the offense once again took its time to get into rhythm, the Utes were still comfortably in front, even by the end of the first frame. After leading 10-0 late in the opening quarter, Marquis Wilson returned a punt 24 yards to set the Utes up in prime field position. It took them just four plays to reach the end zone, with Ratliff finding Derrek Richards for a 12-yard score, the senior quarterback’s first of three touchdown tosses of the day.

“We moved the ball pretty well, but we had a lot of penalties and errors that we’ve got to clean up,” Ratliff said. “But everybody played great. Everybody was doing everything they needed to do to win.”

At the end of the half, the Utes once again took advantage of a USU mistake. Jackson-who turned the ball over three times before being replaced midway through the second half-fumbled deep in his own territory, and Weddle fell on it. With less than a minute on the clock, Ratliff wasted no time, finding Richards for a 21-yard touchdown. Facing tight one-on-one coverage, Richards muscled his way in front to bring in the catch, managing to get both feet barely in bounds to put the Utes up 24-0 at the half.

“Ratliff threw it right in the corner, and my main focus was just to catch it, and I happened to have both feet in,” Richards said.

The Utes really poured it on late, even after many of the starters had been replaced. Junior wideout/special teamer Fano Tagovailoa recovered a Kevin Robinson fumble on a kick return and, just moments later, turned a short reception into a 35-yard touchdown.

Seemingly everyone got in on the action for the Utes, as Ratliff and Tommy Grady (who entered in the fourth quarter) spread the ball around to seven receivers, while six different rushers combined for 166 rushing yards on the ground.

Now riding a modest two-game winning streak, the Utes have worked out some of their kinks, outscoring their opponents 93-7 over the last two weeks. The Aggies, on the other hand, have had nothing but trouble in 2006, averaging just 2.3 points per contest. The offense has not scored a touchdown all season.

The Utes open up conference play next weekend when they head back to Southern California to take on the San Diego State Aztecs.

Game Notes: The Ute offensive line did not allow a sack for the third-straight game this season?preseason all-MWC left tackle Tavo Tupola limped off the field in the second quarter with an apparent knee sprain, but the injury does not appear to be serious. Coach Whittingham said he expects it to be a 1-2 week timetable?Utah converted 7-of-14 third-down opportunities, while USU was 3-for-13.

Josh Lee

Freshman Stevenson Sylvester runs the ball in for a fourth quarter touchdown during Saturday’s win against Utah State.