Utes find redemption in 30-14 win

By Bryan Chouinard , Asst. Sports Editor

The Utes got back to their winning ways this weekend after sending the Louisville Cardinals back to Kentucky with their second straight loss.

Utah got the best of the Cardinals behind an efficient performance by junior Terrance Cain as well as an inspired defensive unit that forced three takeaways.

But it was not all smiles after the Utes’ 30-14 win. Head coach Kyle Whittingham described the game as “bittersweet” after finding out that starting running back Matt Asiata will be sidelined for the rest of the 2009 season with a torn ACL.

“We’re going to miss his leadership,” Whittingham said. “He’s a team captain, which is obviously a leadership role by nature of being elected captain.”

Asiata, who left the game in the first quarter, wasn’t the only casualty Saturday night for the Utes. Also out of the game was All-American Zane Beadles, defensive tackle Lei Talamaivao and strong safety Joe Dale. Beadles is expected back after the bye week, but all injuries will be re-evaluated Monday.

Even with the injuries on the offensive side of the ball, Cain and the Utes put on an impressive offensive performance, collecting 416 yards of total offense, 214 of which came on the ground. Asiata accumulated 26 yards on three carries before leaving the game, but it was Cain and backup Eddie Wide who combined for a total of 195 rushing yards. Wide had the first 100-yard rushing game of his career, carrying the ball 19 times for 130 yards.

“We didn’t pay much attention to the stats,” Cain said. “The team was playing hard, receivers were making great plays, the line was blocking, and we just came out firing.”

Cain finished the day 17 for 22, throwing for 202 yards and two touchdowns, one to David Reed and the other to Jereme Brooks. Cain’s only hiccup of the night came on an interception over the middle of the field in the third quarter, which resulted in one of Louisville’s only scores on the game.

The Cardinals struggled to find an offensive rhythm all night against the Utah defense that only allowed 261 yards of total offense. Coming into the game, Louisville running back Victor Anderson had been averaging more than 100 yards per game but was held to 27 yards on 10 carries for his lowest output of the year.

Former walk-on punter Kepa Gaison headlined the Ute defense, finishing the night with seven tackles and 1.5 sacks.

“We’ve never played a complete game as a defense in the past three games,” Gaison said. It was a goal this week to get turnovers and get the offense back the ball and make big plays when they were supposed to be made, and that’s what we did.”

It was big play after big play for the Utes, who not only forced three turnovers but also sacked Cardinal quarterback Justin Burke four times, a season high.

“Takeaways and sacks,” Whittingham said. “Those are the two keys to playing good defense. If your numbers are good in those two areas, that’s an indicator of how you’re playing defense.”

All of Utah’s takeaways came in the first half and led to six Utah points. The Utes held the Cardinals to only 80 rushing yards all night after Louisville had been averaging 154 rushing yards as a team all season.

“This is exactly how we wanted (our defense) to respond,” Whittingham said. “They answered the bell and came out and did a nice job.”

The play of the night came from safety Robert Johnson. After defensive end Koa Misi forced Louisville running back Trent Guy to fumble, Johnson made the heads-up play to not only recover the fumble, but also to throw the ball back in bounds before
stepping out. Corner R.J. Stanford then recovered the loose ball to give the Utes their first turnover of the night.

“The key in the first half was the three takeaways,” Whittingham said. “That really set the tone. That’s why we were able to get out to that lead.”

Johnson again got in on the action in the second quarter, forcing Louisville back Bilal Powell to fumble at the Utah 36-yard line. On Louisville’s next possession, linebacker Mike Wright snagged the second interception of his career, picking off Burke on his only interception of the night.

“It was nice to see that we finally kind of got back to where we left off last year,” Gaison said. “Our defense has a lot more to show and as the season goes on, we’re going to show a lot more.”

The Utes now have a bye week before gearing up for conference play. The Utes went 3-1 in nonconference play this season and will look to add to that record when they kick off Mountain West Conference action Oct. 10 against Colorado State.

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Mike Mangum/The Daily Utah Chronicle

Kepa Gaison and Derrick Shelby pull down Louisville quarterback Justin Powell. Gaison had seven tackles and 1.5 sacks in the Utes? 30-14 win over Louisville.