Defensive stance

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Despite a slow start and a less-than-perfect finish, the Utes finally found their first conference win on Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium, beating San Diego State 23-7.

The Utah offense couldn’t find the end zone the entire first half, despite moving the ball 249 yards and finding themselves in the red zone twice. Instead, the Utes settled on three Louie Sakoda field goals (32, 51, and 27 yards).

But the offensive unit bounced back early in the second half and was able to piece together two passing touchdowns to run away from the Aztecs.

“We were making some good plays and moving the ball well, but we were having some problems getting into the end zone in the first half,” said Utah running back Darrell Mack. “It was just frustrating after a while, putting in all that work and not getting into the end zone, but that happens sometimes.”

Mack had a chance to score a rushing touchdown of his own on the Utes’ first possession of the game. The junior broke away from the San Diego State defense for a 27-yard run, but was stripped of the ball at the one-yard line and the result was a touchback for the Aztecs.

“At the last minute, I tried to stretch out and catch that corner, but it didn’t work,” Mack said. “It’s safe to say I won’t try that again.”

Mack finished the game with 131 yards, marking the third consecutive game he has rushed over the century mark.

On the other side of the ball, the Aztec offense was held to merely 211 total yards and seven points, despite coming into the game averaging close to 400 yards and 22.7 points per game.

“The story of the game was our defense,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “We held the San Diego State offense to just 12 first downs and around 200 yards total, and they had been playing some great football to this point. I’m very proud of the way this defense played.”

Trailing 7-6 with just under two minutes left in the first half, Utah cornerback Sean Smith gave the Utes a huge momentum boost when he intercepted the ball with San Diego State threatening at the Utes’ own 35-yard line. Utah took advantage of the turnover, driving down the field just before halftime and using Sakoda’s 27-yard field goal to take a 9-7 lead at the break.

Utah came out in the second half with renewed vigor on offense and the same enthusiasm on defense.

Freshman quarterback Corbin Louks completed an 11-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman Jereme Brooks to start things off.

After a three and out by the Aztec offense, Utah starting quarterback Brian Johnson decided he wanted in on the action and completed a seven-yard touchdown to Mack. Johnson finished the day completing 21 of his 28 passes for 208 yards and an interception to go along with the touchdown pass.

“We knew going into the game that they played a soft middle zone,” Johnson said. “We knew that they weren’t going to let anybody behind them, and we knew that we had to be patient on offense to get things rolling. Just take what the defense gives you.”

Meanwhile, the Utah defense was swarming and finished the game with five sacks and two turnovers.

Despite all of the positives, the Utes struggled with penalties and unforced errors down the stretch, allowing the Aztecs to drive the length of the field with just under five minutes left. But tough defense from the Utes stuffed SDSU short of the end zone and Utah escaped with the victory.

The win marks the first conference victory of the season for the Utes. Utah faces another challenge this week as the team heads back out on the road against TCU on Thursday night.

“It was nice to get the win, but it definitely wasn’t our best game. We still have to keep working, and we still have to get better. Now the focus is on TCU with the short week.”

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Tyler Cobb

Gabe Long takes down San Diego State quarterback Kevin O’Connell on Saturday. The Utes extended their winning streak to three games.