No. 14 Utes' defense dominates high-scoring New Mexico offense
Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. This time, Utah left the Land of Enchantment smiling.
Led by a defense that limited New Mexico to just 157 yards and eight first downs, the 14th-ranked Utes avenged past troubles against the Lobos with a convincing 28-7 victory at University Stadium.
"Our guys were on a mission this week," said Utah defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham. "They had something to prove. They were ticked off after last season."
Revenge proved to be sweet for the Utes, who improved to 5-0 overall (their best start since 1994) and 2-0 in Mountain West Conference play. They've now won nine straight games dating back to last season and eight consecutive on the road. Utah hasn't lost since falling to New Mexico last season in Salt Lake City.
Defensive end Marquess Ledbetter, one of 10 Utes to make a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, said the team, as a whole, was determined to get the job done.
"We weren't going to let up like we did last year," said Ledbetter. "We were going to come out and dominate for four quarters.
And it all began up front, where Utah's defense faced a beefy New Mexico line whose average size was 6-foot-5 and 326 pounds.
"That's what we had to come out and do," said defensive tackle Sione Pouha. "Those are some big guys. Probably the best offensive line we are going to play in the Mountain West."
The Lobos (2-3, 0-1), who played with injured running back DonTrell Moore, never mounted much of a threat offensively. Their highly touted defense was also ineffective. Utah wound up with 466 yards of total offense and 24 first downs. The Utes had 278 yards rushing, becoming just the third team in 50 games to surpass 200 against the Lobos.
"I think it all started on the opening kickoff," said Utah coach Urban Meyer. "When we play as well as we do on special teams and defense, and the offense scores in the red zone, we've got a good team."
Steve Savoy's 10-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter capped all scoring in a contest all but officially decided in the first half.
After opening with six straight pass plays, Utah switched to the run and it quickly paid off. Marty Johnson followed a short rush with a 59-yarder to set up the game's first score. Alex Smith's 3-yard touchdown run put the Utes on top early.
The 7-0 lead held firm for nearly 7 1/2 minutes until the Lobos pulled even on a 68-yard fumble return by cornerback Gabriel Fulbright. He scooped up the ball after it fell to the ground on what appeared to be an incomplete pass by Smith, who was hit on the play by New Mexico linebacker Mike Mohoric.
Utah retaliated by scoring two touchdowns on lengthy drives to secure a 21-7 lead by the time the first half was complete. Both second-quarter scores came on the ground, where it took the Utes less than 17 minutes to outrush each of New Mexico's four previous opponents this year eclipsing Oregon State's 124 yards rushing in a 17-7 win over the Lobos on Sept. 18 .
A 7-yard run by Paris Warren opened the decisive scoring stretch and capped off the Utes' fifth scoring drive of 80 or more yards this season.
Punter Matt Kovacevich kept the next Utah possession alive when he ran 21 yards on fourth-and-14 from the Ute 20.
"Right when I got on the edge I was about to kick it," he said. "I saw that first-down marker was open and I just went for it."
Two other first downs followed before Smith ran six yards for his second touchdown of the night.
Besides a commanding lead at the break, the Utes were dominant statistically despite losing two fumbles. They held big advantage in first downs (17-4), total offense yardage (323-92) and tackles for loss (8-2). Utah converted on six of its nine third-down situations, while denying New Mexico seven times.
"It was execution. We ran the same plays we ran last week,"
said New Mexico coach Rocky Long. "They worked pretty good last week but didn't work very well this week. That's a combination of not executing and their defense being pretty good."
Starting safety Morgan Scalley, who intercepted a pass, said it was even more than that.
"We felt like we were the better prepared team and we showed it tonight," he said."The Utes have a bye next week. They'll return to action Oct. 16 at home against North Carolina.
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