The Edge


The Rebels employed a two-quarterback system until Shane Steichen suffered a season-ending ankle injury, leaving the UNLV offense solely in the hands of Rocky Hinds. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound sophomore has thrown just two touchdowns to his seven interceptions, and the Rebel offense as a whole is scoring fewer than 19 points per game, second-worst in the conference. Say what you will about Brett Ratliff-at least the Utah senior has been able to engineer a couple dozen touchdown drives this season.

Edge: Utah

Running Backs

Questions have arisen regarding the Ute offensive coaches’ confidence in the rushing attack. Darryl Poston has gotten the majority of the carries this year (in part, because of injures to Mike Liti and Darrell Mack, which have disrupted the team’s plan to have a platoon system). But Poston ran well against the Lobos before suffering a mild injury that kept him out of the second half. The Rebels have utilized two backs-David Peeples (no, not the one who wrote 12 Monkeys) and Erick Jackson-but as a team are averaging just 84.1 yards per game on the ground.

Edge: Utah


UNLV’s Casey Flair and Ryan Wolfe have combined for 70 catches, five touchdowns and more than 1,000 receiving yards, but there is little to offer in the receiving game for the Rebels beyond those two-and that has proven to be a detriment for Mike Sanford and his spread variation. The Ute receiving corps has been erratic and disappointing, but there are still at least five guys who have proven they can make plays-it’s just consistency that has been the issue. The Utes would be well-served to try to use more of the field, perhaps utilizing big wideout Bradon Godfrey over the middle to open up the sidelines to which the team keeps trying to force the ball.

Edge: Utah

Offensive Line

It was one bad week. The Utes’ front five gave up an astonishing six sacks against Wyoming two games ago, but rebounded with another sack shutout in a losing cause vs. New Mexico. Utah has still given up a conference-low six total sacks on the year, while UNLV has given up 18 and the Rebel run game is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry.

Edge: Utah

Defensive Line

Losing stud run-stuffer Kelly Talavou is a huge blow for the Ute defense, which was beginning to show signs of wear and vulnerability even before he went down with a knee injury. Without him, more pressure will be put on the injury-riddled linebacking corps to make plays and stop the run. But regardless, the UNLV run defense has given up a league-worst 15 rushing touchdowns and opposing runners are running at a 4.4 yards-per-carry clip. Even the Tavalou-less Utes will likely do better than that.

Edge: Utah


Depth and versatility-those are the two adjectives that have described the Ute linebackers this season. In addition to the team’s four top ‘backers, Casey Evans (who began the season at linebacker) can move into position if need be. But without injured starters Stevenson Sylvester and Kyle Brady, things have gotten significantly tougher for the Utes’ defense. UNLV junior linebacker Beau Bell is one of the league’s top defensive players, leading the conference with 10.9 tackles per game (76 total) to go along with four sacks and nine tackles for loss.

Edge: UNLV


Ute cornerback Eric Weddle continues to draw praise from all corners of the college-football landscape, having now been honored as a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award and a quarterfinalist for the Ronnie Lott Trophy. He has been the MWC’s premier defensive playmaker for the last two years. But the U secondary was exploited last week against the Lobos in arguably the unit’s weakest showing of the year. The group couldn’t cover Marcus Smith and didn’t make the necessary adjustments when the Lobos began attacking over the middle. That said, UNLV’s pass defense is the lowest-rated in the Mountain West, giving up 240.3 yards per game through the air.

Edge: Utah

Special Teams

Utah and UNLV are 1-2 in the conference in both punting and kick returns, but the Rebels-who have struggled to score points for much of the season-are just 4-of-7 on field goal attempts this season and have the worst kick coverage unit in the league. Punter/kicker Louie Sakoda is a likely all-MWC selection.

Edge: Utah


It is now year two for both Kyle Whittingham and Mike Sanford, the two coordinators for the Utes’ 2004 undefeated team who rode that success to head coaching jobs. Over the last two years, the Utes have clearly been the better of the two programs-but then again, he also had more to work with. Both have struggled to win over fans, as neither team has fulfilled expectations thus far.

Edge: Even

Chris Bellamy