Deja Who?

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Utah leading New Mexico at halftime isn’t a big surprise. Sustaining that lead and playing an entire 60 minutes against the Lobos, however, is a bolt from the blue. The Utes did exactly that as they staved off déj vu and won 28-10 at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night to extend their winning streak to seven.

“We all know what happened the last couple years,” Utah quarterback Brian Johnson said. “We’ve been up at halftime and they’ve found a way to battle back and come back to beat us. We made the point to play the entire game this time around.”

But the Utes saw their 14-0 halftime lead evaporate in the blink of an eye early in the third quarter as history looked like it was repeating itself. But Utah’s stonewall defense took over late in the game and forced three fumbles to preserve the Utes’ win streak on Senior Night.

The win against New Mexico did see an end to one Utah streak though.

Prior to the Lobos’ third-quarter touchdown, in which they started the drive at the Utes’ 10-yard line, the Utah defense had not allowed a point in nine consecutive quarters. Up to that point, the defense had also not conceded a touchdown in 12 straight quarters.

“It starts up front with the (defensive) line,” Johnson said. “Those guys are doing a great job and they’re just fun to watch. I get to sit and watch them get teams in third and long and their superior athleticism takes over.”

The Utes had only three sacks, but held New Mexico running back Rodney Ferguson to just 51 rushing yards and forced quarterback Donovan Porterie out of the pocket on numerous occasions. Porterie finished the game completing 18 of his 41 passes for 198 yards.

After climbing back into the game, the Lobos fumbled twice on punt returns. New Mexico’s other second half fumble came in the fourth quarter when freshman defensive end Paul Kruger chased Porterie down from behind and knocked the ball loose. Sophomore defensive tackle Koa Misi then scooped up the loose ball and raced 28 yards for the game-sealing touchdown.

“Without those guys, we wouldn’t be nearly as good. Utah safety Steve Tate said of the Utes’ defensive line. “They’re putting pressure on the quarterback and putting (other teams) in some bad situations.”

On the offensive side of the ball, running back Darrell Mack led the Utes with 77 rushing yards and one touchdown. Mack broke the 1,000-yard mark for the season early in the second quarter.

“That’s great for Darrell (Mack),” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s been a consistent runner for us all season. But don’t give him all the credit, the offensive line has as much to do with that as Darrell Mack does.”

Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig showed that he didn’t waste all of his gadget plays against Wyoming the previous week. Freshman wide receiver Jereme Brooks took a reverse pitch and threw an 8-yard touchdown to Bradon Godfrey with 23 seconds left in the first half.

Johnson also got in the fun and threw a touchdown of his own late in the third quarter when he scrambled out of the pocket and hit wide receiver Derrek Richards for a 7-yard strike.

The win against the Lobos further fuels the hype leading up to next week’s rivalry game against BYU. Both teams will carry seven-game winning streaks into Lavell Edwards Stadium on Saturday.

“They’re playing well and we’re playing well so it’ll definitely be a battle,” Johnson said. “I don’t think you can ask more of an in-state rivalry game. The last two years it went right down the wire and was a close game so it’ll definitely be a battle.”

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Lennie Mahler

New Mexico’s Ian Clark muffs one of two costly punt returns in Utah’s 28-10 win over the Lobos