Football Notebook: Team pays tribute to defense

By Chris Kamrani, Asst. Sports Editor

A hard-fought victory

Head coach Kyle Whittingham described Saturday’s 30-23 win against Air Force as an “extremely physical game.”

Go ahead and trust Whittingham on that description. Any time you hold the Falcons to 58 yards net rushing, it certainly says something about your defense and their assignment-based performance.

Go back to 1980, which was the last time Air Force was held to that low of a rushing count. Twenty-eight years. That’s certainly older than any Ute on the roster.

“We played the option better than I can remember ever playing it,” Whittingham said. “That is a tribute to our defense, the coaches and players, and the work they put in during the week.”

It truly was a masterful performance by the starting 11 of the defense. With the mixing and matching of going up against the option that is the Falcon offense, No. 17 Utah’s formations often looked a bit out of sorts8212;most notably outside linebacker Nai Fotu playing defensive end8212;potentially something that set them up for a historic day.

“At times, we had three linemen, three linebackers and four safeties out there,” linebacker Mike Wright said. “(The defense) has the versatility to do that.”

Wright finished with a game high of 10 tackles, while specialized, converted defensive tackle Koa Misi finished with nine tackles.

Those two performances have pitted those two, along with Paul Kruger, into the top five category of tackles by current Utes.

The offense, once again, put up 30 points without a second thought, but after a three-turnover first-half performance, the other side of the ball continues to play decent football8212;only at certain times.

“We did some good things offensively, but had some turnovers in the first half,” Whittingham said. “We have some things we need to continue to work on, and those will be addressed. Overall, the offense did some good things.”

A hundred times two

Through three games this season, the Utah running game had yet to eclipse the century mark in a game.

That has now been rectified, and the Utes can certainly thank their two bruising tailbacks for that. Matt Asiata finished 116 yards on 19 carries, while Darrell Mack ran his way to the weekly, co-Offensive Mountain West Conference award with 101 yards and three touchdowns.

Mack hit a crucial gap on the Utes’ final drive on a third down and eventually scampered in for six with 58 seconds left to give Utah all it needed to win.

“(We) help each other out,” Asiata said. “We’re just really good friends on the field.”

Easy like Monday morning

The football team did not hold practice yesterday on account of the physicality of Saturday’s win against Air Force. The Utes did run their typical conditioning and weight-lifting drills, but Whittingham figured it was a perfect time to rest some ailing players.

“This is a good time to get a little bit of freshness back into our players, so we will go back to work tomorrow,” Whittingham said. “We usually do this two to three times a season at intervals and let the guys get their legs back underneath of them and regroup.”

Misi is nursing a sore ankle alongside starting offensive lineman Caleb Schlauderhaff. Both are dinged up, and the staff will wait until later in the week to determine the status of the injured players.

“We’ve got some guys banged up,” Whittingham said. “If we have a question about someone and have a backup we feel good about, we will probably err on the side of caution. There is no way we will overlook this game (against Weber State), and we won’t make any wholesale changes.”

Le Big Mac

Saturday’s in-state showdown with Weber State will mark the return of former U head coach Ron McBride to Rice-Eccles Stadium. McBride paced the sidelines for the Utes for 13 years8212;finishing with a record of 88-63. He is also ranked second all-time in victories.

“I have a great deal of respect for him,” Whittingham said of his former boss. “He is responsible for the resurgence of the Utah football program and the majority of the players on the 2004 team were his recruits.”

Strong safety and newly-minted punt returner Terrell Cole obviously doesn’t know a whole lot about who McBride is, and for Cole, the most important thing is the upcoming game.

“It doesn’t matter,” Cole said. “(We) just gotta win the ball game.”

Injury update

The Utes have lost another backup linebacker in Mo Neal. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Monday and will be out for an unknown amount of time. His sole appearance of the season was against Michigan in the season opener.

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