Utes rally to repel the Rams in first conference game

By By Liz Frome and

By Liz Frome

Utah’s start to their first conference game of the season was shaky at best Saturday, but emphasized one crucial component for the Utes’ potential success this season – their ability to overcome adversity.

The Utes were faced with challenges from every side of the game, including bitter temperatures, a hostile environment, an injury in an already dented position, and a 14-point deficit late in the game.

Again, faced with the potential of injuries disrupting their system, the Utes pulled together at the running back spot after Shaky Smithson left the game with a sprained ankle in the first quarter.

Smithson moved from special teams to running back after senior Matt Asiata went down with a torn ACL in the Louisville game September 26. Backup Sausan Shakerin was also unable to play, still out with wrist and shoulder injuries.

With all but one athlete out at the running back spot Saturday, basically all the weight in the run game was put in the hands of Eddie Wide III.

Wide showed he was prepared to handle the pressure, proving that the Utes’ run game isn’t condemned in spite of being stripped of Asiata’s hugely anticipated season. Wide accrued 17 carries over the night, gaining 102 yards and one touchdown on the ground. He also added another touchdown and 25 more yards on six catches to the Utes’ offense.

“(The win) shows we can come back and play with anybody,” Wide said. “We’re all fighters and we’re all looking to win.”

For the first two quarters of the game, the Utes struggled on offense to move the ball, and were having a difficult time defensively trying to stop Colorado’s run game. Running back Leonard Mason dug out 131 rushing yards against the Utah defense, a hefty portion of which coming in the first half.

“We knew coming in that stopping the run game was going to be a challenge,” said coach Kyle Whittingham.

It took a hefty chunk of the third quarter for the Utes to get the ball rolling, going down 17-3 before making a significant move.

“Nobody showed any let down,” said defensive back Stevenson Sylvester. “We weren’t on the sideline hanging our heads or anything, we just knew we had to respond. “

Pulling together on offense and defense, the Utes not only scored 21 points in just over a quarter’s worth of game time, they also held the Rams scoreless for the duration of the night.

Junior quarterback Terrance Cain ended the game with perhaps his best performance so far this season, completing 24-32 for 248 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.

Senior free safety Robert Johnson also had a career night, picking off three passes from Colorado quarterback Grant Stucker. All three interceptions came in the second half, and two were converted into scoring drives by the offense. Johnson’s last interception late in the fourth quarter sealed the Utes’ 24-17 victory over Colorado.

“In the game against Oregon we beat ourselves,” Johnson said. “We’re better then what we showed in that game. This week was a good week, and we’re going to try and defend our Mountain West title.”

The Utes got themselves off to a good start on their quest for another conference championship, and will face another road test next week against UNLV.

“To come away with a win here the way we did should be a confidence builder,” Whittingham said. “We understand that we’re never out of it and we just kept fighting.”