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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Buckle-down D

By Tom Quinn

After only showing up for two quarters in the debacle against New Mexico on Oct. 19, Utah’s defense was back in form against a hapless UNLV offense last Saturday, paving the way for a 45-23 win over the Rebels.

The Utes-who have been consistently inconsistent since they first kicked off the season at UCLA-have countless hiccups to work out over the course of their bye week. None of those problems, however, have been as hard to figure out as the Utah defense.

Think back to some of the highs and lows of this rather forgettable season and it quickly becomes apparent that Utah’s defense is bipolar. How else does one explain how Eric Weddle, the demigod who recorded three interceptions and three touchdowns against SDSU, was repeatedly victimized by a redshirt freshman in Albuquerque?

Although plenty of fans are still having recurring nightmares about the U’s abysmal performance against the Lobos, Saturday’s showing helped ease the pain a little. Utah’s “good” defense showed up, and the Rebels didn’t have a prayer.

The U’s defensive unit dominated UNLV in virtually every statistical category, forcing three turnovers and holding the Rebels to a meager 2.2 yards per rush.

Most running backs get that much just by falling forward.

While most fans will likely remember linebacker J.J. Williams’ touchdown off a Rocky Hinds interception as the pinnacle of the defense’s play, the team’s defining moment came much later during a UNLV fourth-quarter drive that ended in a field goal.

The Ute offense had just coughed up the ball, giving UNLV a first down deep inside Utah territory. With a 45-12 lead and both safeties standing in their own end zone, no one would have blamed Weddle and Co. for giving a halfhearted effort and allowing the Rebels to put a cosmetic score on the board.

But Utah’s defense stiffened, refusing to give UNLV an inch. As a result, the Rebels’ field goal drive lasted four plays and covered exactly -2 yards. At that rate, they would have been back in Las Vegas in no time.

By that point in the game, Utah’s defense was just minutes removed from giving up a touchdown on a 16-play drive covering 90 yards. Apparently undaunted by that statistical blemish, the Ute D came out with fire and forced the Rebels backward.

Although most fans were probably halfway to their cars by the time that sequence of events unfolded, it was nevertheless a significant moment for a team that is still trying to figure out how to deal with adversity.

UNLV had just scored on a long drive, and Utah’s offense responded by coughing up the football. In virtually any other game this season, that series of errors would have spelled disaster for the Utes.

But for some strange reason, the Utah defense rebounded nicely and hit the Rebels square on the chin. They absolutely refused to let UNLV get any closer to the goal line.

Call it confidence, call it swagger or blame it on the fact that UNLV is terrible and the Utes were protecting a 33-point lead. The point is, Utah got going when the going got tough, which is something this team isn’t exactly known for.

If the Utes could somehow find a way to play like that every time they took the field, fans would really have something to be excited about.

Lennie Mahler

Ute cornerback Shaun Harper (21) brings down UNLV’s Rocky Hinds during the Utes’ 45-23 victory last Saturday.

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