A whoopin’ for a whoopin’

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said the team “flat out got whooped.” Junior quarterback Brian Johnson said the outcome was embarrassing.

The two are referring to the Utes’ less-than-stellar road performance against Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo., a year ago. Utah was dominated in every facet of the game, particularly on the line, and the Cowboys galloped away with a 31-15 win.

“We turned the ball over too much, one time for a touchdown at the start of the second half,” Whittingham said. “The game wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. They put a whooping on us.”

Although this is a new season, many Utes have the humiliating defeat stuck in their minds and plan on using it for motivation against the Cowboys tomorrow at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Whittingham has placed added emphasis on winning the battle at the line of scrimmage, saying that it is absolutely critical for the Utes’ success. The Cowboys’ rush defense ranks 13th nationally and is anchored by All-American candidate John Fletcher at tackle. Fletcher is currently leading the MWC and tied for 13th in the country with eight sacks.

“We’ve got to have a great game on the offensive and defensive lines if we’re going to beat Wyoming,” Whittingham said. “If you can control the line of scrimmage, you’ve always got a chance. If you get your butt handed to you there, you don’t have a chance.”

Running back Darrell Mack will definitely aid the Utes in their quest for redemption. The junior has been nearly unstoppable since taking over the starting spot and has compiled five consecutive 100-yard games.

Mack’s ascent into the upper echelon of Mountain West Conference running backs has placed some added focus on the junior, but the Spring Valley, Calif., native welcomes the pressure and uses it as inspiration.

“Teams are gonna be gunning for me now, so I have to go even harder than I was before,” Mack said. “I’ve got to sell the play action pass well, so we can get the ball out to other players.”

If the Utes decide to take to the air against the Cowboys, they will have to deal with two of the better cornerbacks in the conference in Michael Medina and Julius Stinson.

Stinson was recently named a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the best defensive back in the nation. The junior from Victorville, Calif., currently leads the Cowboys with four interceptions and nine pass breakups.

“Their two cornerbacks are really good at breaking on the ball, and they make a lot of plays for them,” Johnson said. “We’ve just got to be aware of them and take care of the ball.”

The Utes come into the game fresh off a bye week, which could either be a blessing or a curse, depending on how one is looking at it.

The team desperately needed a break from action, as a number of the players were nursing injuries. The Utes also seemed to find their niche heading into the break, wielding their impressive streak behind a strong running game and stringent defense.

“If we would have had our druthers, we would have rather kept playing, but instead we used the bye as positively as we could and tried to get some guys healed up,” Whittingham said.

Leading Utah wide receiver Bradon Godfrey is one of those guys. Godfrey sat out Utah’s game against TCU three weeks ago and saw limited action against Colorado State, but he’s expected to be back in action against Wyoming.

Other Utes who benefited from the week off were Freddie Brown (concussion), Stevenson Sylvester (turf toe), Joe Jiannoni (ankle) and Robert Johnson (shoulder).

Meanwhile, the Cowboys come into Rice-Eccles Stadium having lost three of the last four games. Most recently, they dropped a heartbreaker to San Diego State on the road.

“Their back is against the wall just like ours, perhaps even more so,” Whittingham said. “Their conference title hopes are kind of unlikely now, but getting to a bowl game is a reality for them, so they’re going to be playing tough.”

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Lennie Mahler