Pass yards hard to come by against Wyoming

By and

The goal the U football team has stressed from the beginning of the 2006 season-a Mountain West championship-is still in the Utes’ sights at the season’s halfway point. In fact, they’re in the driver’s seat-along with Air Force and BYU, which are right with them at 2-0 in conference play, and Colorado State, which is 1-0 and a league-best 4-1 overall.

So the job’s hardly done yet-but the Utes are at a much better point than they were a season ago, when they dropped their first conference game and never really got back into the running. The team looks to move to 3-0 this weekend against a team that has won just two of its six games so far this year.

But don’t let that fool you, the Utes say. At a time when the Ute passing attack is just starting to come around, putting together its finest showing of the year against a solid TCU defense on Saturday, the Utes have to face off against the top-rated pass defense in the country, and the No. 4 defense overall.

“They’re playing hard on defense. Their scheme is very good. They’re executing the scheme very well,” said U head coach Kyle Whittingham. “They are coming off a good win against New Mexico at New Mexico. So they’re feeling good about themselves right now. We’ve got to go up there, once again, and play with passion, play with emotion, and play our best football to have a chance.”

That victory over New Mexico came this weekend in Albuquerque, as the Cowboys snapped a four-game losing streak. And once again, it was the defense that did the dirty work, harassing UNM quarterbacks Donovan Porterie and Chris Nelson all day as the Lobos managed just 112 yards through the air and got sacked four times. That was just par for the course for the Wyoming D, which held Boise State’s Jared Zabransky to just 116 passing yards only a few weeks before.

“Pass defense always starts at the line of scrimmage,” Whittingham said. “You’ve got to have a good pass rush. They have a nice zone-blitz scheme. The sum of their parts is playing very well. Their 11 guys on defense are playing very well as a unit.”

That performance against the still-undefeated Broncos has contributed largely to the growing perception that the Cowboys may be a bigger MWC threat than previously thought. Boise State managed fewer than 250 yards of total offense and just squeezed past the Cowboys, 17-10.

Difficult victories such as that have been the norm around Laramie this year. The team has lost one game in overtime and another in double overtime, in large part because of a defensive unit that has held down opponents all year. Unfortunately for Wyoming, the Cowboy offense hasn’t been able to keep pace.

Weddle pulls rank at Utah-and in the NCAA

With his fourth-quarter interception against TCU on Thursday, Ute senior Eric Weddle now has six on the season, tying him for second in the NCAA. San Jose State’s Dwight Lowery leads the nation with seven-in just four games.

Weddle is also now second on the U’s career list with 17, just two behind school record holder Harold Lusk.

Sakoda honored, once again

Despite missing his first field goal of the season (a 50-yard attempt, his longest try of the year, as well), Ute kicker/punter Louie Sakoda was named MWC Special Teams Player of the Week. The 5-foot-10 sophomore connected on two of three field goal attempts and punted nine times for a 41.9-yard average.

Mike Terry

Utah wide receiever Sam Ewalefo maneuvers through TCU defense after coming down with a Brett Ratliff pass in last Thursday’s 20-7 win at Rice-Eccles Stadium.