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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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Utes look to avenge last year?s loss against Rebels

By Chris Kamrani, Asst. Sports Editor

Last year’s 27-0 loss to UNLV has been referred to as a letdown, a blowout and, most recently, a need for payback.

To quote a social revolutionist movie character, “a vendetta (is) held as a votive, not in vain.”

It just so happens that the No. 22 Utes are8212;whether openly admitting it or not8212;vowing to greet the Runnin’ Rebels with a significant vendetta.

The loss did all sorts of damage for the Utes. Coming off a supernatural performance against then-No. 11 UCLA in which the U literally spanked the Bruins in every facet of the box score, one couldn’t have imagined what kind of pain was waiting in Las Vegas.

“(Last year’s game) was a painful experience any way you look at it,” quarterback Brian Johnson said.

Painful in the fact that the Utes had four turnovers, including three lost fumbles. Also noteworthy was the Utes’ 3-for-14 performance on third-down conversions, alongside an astonishing 0-1 performance in the red zone.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham said the UNLV game was the low point of his coaching career.

“It was a very bleak weekend, to say the least,” Whittingham said.
And then there was Frank Summers, the guy who made the U defense look flat-out infantile.

“We just didn’t tackle,” Whittingham said. “(Summers) got into the secondary, and, if my memory serves me, we missed 20-plus tackles. So, that tells it all right there.”

Summers constantly busted through the Ute front line and evaded many would-be tacklers along the way to a 190-yard, three-touchdown performance. Former Utah offensive coordinator and current Rebels head coach Mike Sanford said postgame that the Ute defenders were afraid to tackle Summers, certainly arousing some animosity from his former team.

Whittingham shrugged off the mention of Sanford’s postgame comments of last season and finds it erroneous to look back on them.

“This is a new year, a new set of circumstances,” Whittingham said. “It’s its own entity. We don’t get into any of that type of stuff, you know, digging up stuff from last year.”

The Ute offense had its own set of problems against the Rebel defense in that game. It was the first time since 1993 that the Utes were shut out. Fill-in quarterback Tommy Grady was shaky in the first half, while Johnson made his return to the field after injuring his shoulder in the season opener.

Johnson went 12-for-19 and 78 yards passing, but the offense could not find the end zone. Despite netting 300 yards of total offense, merely 40 yards less than the Rebels, there was no sense of urgency, poise or accuracy.

“We didn’t play well enough on offense on that day, and UNLV did,” Johnson said.

While many people are impressed with the Utes, there are many that are wary of an “average” Mountain West Conference team such as UNLV. Last year, the Utes’ upset against UCLA was supposed to be the turning point, but it instead led to the laid egg in Las Vegas. Now it’s important for the Utes to focus on the game at hand.

“It seemed as we were all starry-eyed against UNLV,” wide receiver Bradon Godfrey said. “I don’t think the focus was there. Maybe there was a lack of preparation, but that just shows you that we learned from last year.”

The defense will be called upon to stop Summers first and foremost. Whittingham mentioned that basically the entire Rebels offense revolves around tailback Summers. The Rebels also feature a trio of big, talented receivers in Ryan Wolfe (6 feet 1 inch), Rodelin Anthony (6 feet 5 inches) and Casey Flair (6 feet 1 inch). All are veteran players and will look to help out sophomore quarterback Omar Clayton, who will be making his fifth collegiate start.

The secondary, which has been mentioned in the highest of ranks nationally, will be a key component in helping corral the UNLV offense.

“This is our so-called payback game,” cornerback Sean Smith said. “We understand last year was an embarrassment, but, like I said, it’s last year. We have to go in and stop the run, no matter who it is, if it’s Frank (Summers) or anyone. We just have to play our game.”

Defensive co-captain Stevenson Sylvester, a Las Vegas native, is keen on his defense and its ability to shine as a cohesive unit; and, considering what happened last year, the Utes will need to keep their balance and, most importantly, their composure.

“With the show we put on last year against these guys…we really have to make up for that, and we’re pumped,” Sylvester said.

Sylvester admitted that it is harder to come off a big win against Michigan and come back to a comfortable environment, while trying to keep a level head.

“A lot of people’s minds aren’t exactly where they’re supposed to be,” Sylvester said. “We just gotta keep everyone’s head on (UNLV), and focused.”

This has been a date undoubtably circled on the Utes’ calendars since last year. The Utes have an extra hop in their step after an impressive victory and are ready for UNLV. It certainly sounds eerily familiar, but the question is8212;will this Ute team come out with a vengeance and rectify a Vegas night gone terribly wrong?

“Different people have different things that motivate them,” defensive end Paul Kruger said.

The question is: Is vengeance one of them?

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Lennie Mahler

Brice McCain tries to shut down Frank Sommers of UNLV who gave Utah trouble last year. Utah is ready for payback against UNLV this season.

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