The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

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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Sweating the small stuff

The U football team made itself clear over the weekend: It is still very much alive in the bowl picture. And two decisive wins in a row can do a lot for a team’s confidence. But perhaps the best sign of all the last two weeks has been the fact that a few weaknesses have reared their heads-and the Utes have been able to come out on top anyway.

The team’s pass coverage has had its ups and downs all season, and over the last few weeks it has become a concern for the U coaching staff. The Rams, despite getting handled by the Utes for the most part Saturday afternoon, had three completions of 40 yards or longer, including Luke Roberts’ 51-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.

That nagging trend was reminiscent of the Utes’ Oct. 19 meeting with New Mexico, in which Lobos quarterback Donovan Porterie completed six passes of 25-or-more yards en route to his team’s come-from-behind 34-31 victory.

The Ute pass defense has certainly made its share of plays this year, having picked off 16 passes (including 12 from the secondary alone). But the problems have persisted lately, even in the case of victory. But, as the team talked about this weekend, that’s only one of a few problems the Utes are still working out.

“(The defense) got the job done. The things that bothered us were the deep ball a couple times?and the inability to get out of third downs,” Whittingham said after Saturday’s win. “Third down is the only down. That’s the critical down. You either get off the field as a defense or you keep moving the chains on offense.”

The Rams converted 8-of-17 third-down attempts on the afternoon, certainly worse than the Utes would like but, needless to say, not bad enough to cost them the victory.

“The bottom line is our players prepared well, had the bye week, took advantage of that, I believe; everything turned out to be a positive. Played hard the entire 60 minutes,” Whittingham said.

Colorado State, which sits at the bottom of the league in rushing offense, actually found some early success on the ground against the Utes. In fact, that’s exactly how the Rams tried to establish their offense early on, as tailback Nnamdi Ohaeri gained 25 yards on his first four carries. But while Brett Ratliff led his team down the field for a few first-half touchdowns, the defense settled down and did the grunt work, holding CSU to just nine second-half points.

“I think that we played well in the second half, but the first half we had some problems. I know we got it fixed at least in the second half and we came out strong,” Ute linebacker Joe Jiannoni said. “I think something flipped in us or something and we just had to go get it. We knew they had a chance to come back, and I think our defense did a good job of knowing that.”

This week, the Utes embark on their final road trip of the regular season as they head to Colorado Springs to take on Air Force (4-5, 3-2 MWC), a group that started the season in strong fashion before stumbling of late. Utah, now 6-4 and in second place in the Mountain West standings, could go a long way toward its fourth-straight bowl berth if the team can beat the Falcons for the fourth year in a row.

Lennie Mahler

Utah’s Eric Weddle and Greg Newman tackle CSU quarterback Caleb Hanie in Saturday’s win over the Rams at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

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