Utes shutout in Vegas

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

LAS VEGAS — Mistakes were easy to come by for the Utes on Saturday night. Missed tackles, turnovers and penalties were abundant as Utah was blanked by UNLV, 27-0.

“It’s embarrassing,” U quarterback Brian Johnson said. “It’s flat-out embarrassing.”

The loss drops the Utes to 0-2 in conference play and marks the first time UNLV has beaten Utah since 1979.

“I’ve been coaching 21 years, and this is the toughest team to figure out that I’ve ever been a part of,” U head coach Kyle Whittingham said .

“There wasn’t a phase of the game that we were proficient in,” he said. “We turned the ball over. We had costly penalties in the first half. We didn’t tackle well on defense. It’s perplexing, but it’s my job to figure it out — bottom line.”

Most of the Utes’ costly turnovers came in the form of fumbles. Freshman Corbin Louks, who threw a touchdown pass against UCLA, fumbled the ball on his second snap. Senior wide receiver Derrek Richards muffed a punt that gave UNLV the ball at the Utes’ 23-yard line. Center Kyle Gunther snapped the ball over Johnson’s head, and the junior quarterback was unable to recover it, giving the Rebels the ball at the Utah 30-yard line.

“This is by far the most physical game we have played this year,” UNLV head coach Mike Sanford said. “The thing that was good about it was we played physical on both sides of the football. We dominated the line of scrimmage on offense and dominated the line of scrimmage on defense, and that’s why we won.”

Despite going the entire first half without scoring, the Utes were still in the game at the break, trailing 13-0. Hoping to add a spark to the offense, Utah inserted quarterback Brian Johnson into the mix.

The junior led the Utes down field on the opening drive of the third quarter, but Utah couldn’t get the ball into the end zone from the one-yard line on fourth down, and the Rebels took over on downs.

The Utes’ failure to score gave the momentum back to the Rebels.

“We came out and had a nice first drive, but we’ve got to find a way to score from the one-yard line,” Johnson said. “That changed the whole dynamic of the game.”

Johnson and the Utes got another chance at points later in the third quarter, but they couldn’t connect on fourth down and had to turn the ball over on downs once again.

Defensively, the Utes showed the same porous run defense that led them to their previous two losses. UNLV running back Frank “The Tank” Summers punished Utah to the tune of 190 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a 29-yard score late in the third quarter that all but sealed the deal for the Rebels.

“He’s a great runner,” Utah linebacker Stevenson Sylvester said. “Obviously, we didn’t game plan that well on (Summers), so we just have to watch more film. We’ve got to do some tackling drills or something to get better.”

Sylvester was one of the few bright spots for the Utes as he finished the game with 14 tackles. His performance, which included two tackles for lost yardage, was not enough to stop UNLV’s resurgent offense. Utah cornerbacks Brice McCain and Sean Smith both had interceptions, but neither turnover amounted to much in the losing effort.

“I can’t even explain it right now,” Sylvester said. “Our game plan was ineffective and we didn’t execute.”

This loss to the Rebels is especially tough for the Utes as it comes on the heels of the shocking upset of UCLA at Rice-Eccles Stadium a week ago.

“We’ve got to keep working, keep searching and find what the hot buttons for this football team are,” Whittingham said. “Because last week, we were a different football team than you saw tonight.”

Notes: The Utes suffered yet another injury on Saturday night. Free safety Robert Johnson went down in the first quarter with a dislocated shoulder and will be out for an undetermined amount of time. UNLV tailback David Peeples, who left the game on a stretcher, was listed in good condition after a series of tests came back negative for serous brain, neck and head trauma. His injury was diagnosed as a serious concussion.

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Tyler Cobb

A hard tackle sends a Ute’s helmet rolling across the field in the team’s 27-0 loss against UNLV at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Utes had not been shut out for 14 years.