Utes come away with lackluster win against Lobos, 13-10

By Chris Kamrani, Asst. Sports Editor

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.8212;If the Utah football team had one anomaly in the entire universe8212;New Mexico is it.

After a down-to-the-wire, lackluster 13-10 win over their perennial hang nail, Ute running back Darrell Mack explained his team’s only 2008 visit to the Land of Enchantment.

“All that matters is, we got the ‘W’,” said a solemn Mack.

Amen to that.

The wasn’t just unsightly at times, it was just downright revolting.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham explained Utah’s win over the resilient Lobos in the simplest of measures.

“Any time you can get out of Albuquerque with a win, that’s a good thing to have going.”

Despite totaling 388 yards of total offense, the Utah offense was once again shaken by the unorthodox 3-3-5 New Mexico defense.

If anyone were to get the game ball on this night, it would go to the Utah defense.

The defense helped the No. 10 team dodge a major bullet, one that would have eradicated the BCS dreams that float with the 9-0 Utes.

“It was a tough football game,” defensive coordinator Gary Andersen said. “The kids found a way at the end to stop them on that last drive, and that was huge.”

The phrase “last drive” seemed to echo throughout every Utah football player after the hard-fought victory.

Thanks to a 34-yard punt by Louie Sakoda that was downed at the one-yard line, the Lobos faced a near insurmountable task with a minute and 58 seconds left on the clock.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Brad Gruner worked with his back against the wall and led the Lobos to the Utah 46-yard line before time evaporated, resulting in the Utah win.

The No. 1 task for the defense was No. 21 of the New Mexico offense. The task was accomplished.

Lobo running back Rodney Ferguson, who came in averaging over 100 yards per game and was the top ranked rusher in the conference, was held to a season-low 34 yards rushing on 13 attempts.

“Bottom line is, we hung in there,” Whittingham said. “The defense hung in there. We found a way to win.”

The Utes are now three wins from a perfect regular season, but the mood surrounding the team wasn’t all peaches.

Wide receiver David Reed, who muffed a punt showed emotion after his teams win.

“This is a great win, but it should’ve been done in a different fashion,” Reed said. “It should have never went down like this. I had a bad game today, now, we just gotta step our game up after this.”

Utah’s troubles against the Lobos in the past were evident, but this game was just a difficult one to watch. Luckily for the Utes, Sakoda hit two field goals and Johnson channeled a gimmick play from the Urban Meyer days that led to the 13 points the Utes scored.

The 10-yard catch-and-pitch from Brian Johnson to Jereme Brooks to Brent Casteel was all the Utes needed offensively. It was the first time all season Utah didn’t score a first-half touchdown.

Perhaps the tale of the game came from one of the other thorns in Utah’s side: penalties and turnovers.

Once again, the Utes lost the turnover battle and had seven penalties for 79 yards including five personal foul penalties.

“We had a few penalties in the game,” Whittingham said. “A lot to clean up.”

The notorious battle that the Utes expected coming to New Mexico is now out of the way, and Whittingham and his team can only smile knowing they don’t have to take on this scrappy Lobo squad again till 2009.

When asked why it’s so hard to play these fearless Lobos, Whittingham said, “That’s a good question. If I knew that answer I’d be doing something else.”

Still, the win put the Utes at 9-0 for just the second time in school history. The win also gave Brian Johnson his 22nd as a starting quarterback, which puts him in first place all-time8212;one ahead of Alex Smith, who is the last quarterback to guide the Utes to a 9-0 record. Johnson threw for 195 yards on 23-for-32 passing, including a touchdown and an interception.

Game Notes: Aiona Key has now blocked either a field goal or a punt in each of the last three Ute games.

Tyler Cobb