ALBUQUERQUE — Nothing seems to come easy for the Utah Utes in the Land of Enchantment.
Case in point: Saturday's 56-14 victory over New Mexico at University Stadium.
Sure, the final score was lopsided and a far cry from the three-point outcomes — a win for each team — that marked their last two trips here.
This meeting, however, had its share of adventure.
"We sputtered a bit early but we started to execute better and play better football as the game wore on," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "I'd like to be more of a fast-starting team. That's ideal, but the first three ball games that hasn't proven to be the case."
Facing a New Mexico team that was outscored 124-17 in season-opening losses to Oregon and Texas Tech, No. 14-ranked Utah had its struggles early before blowing things open — wide open.
The Utes' first offensive series ended with an Eddie Wide fumble inside Lobo territory. Their second came oh-so-close to a similar conclusion when Matt Asiata had the ball jarred loose near the goal line.
Fortunately for Utah, tight end Brad Clifford pounced on it at the New Mexico 2, and his knees hit the ground before a second fumble was recovered by the Lobos. The play was reviewed by the officials and ruled in Utah's favor.
Two snaps later, Asiata dove into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown. Joe Phillips added the first of three PATs in the opening half to give the Utes a 7-0 advantage with 6:55 remaining in the first quarter.
It stayed that way until early in the second when quarterback Terrance Cain, who made his second consecutive start in place of the injured Jordan Wynn, connected on a 1-yard scoring strike to tight end Dallin Rogers.
Leading 14-0, Utah added another score before halftime. A 12-yard touchdown run by Cain capped a seven-play, 80-yard drive with 29 seconds left to play in the second quarter.
Utah's 21-0 halftime advantage was highlighted by Cain, who completed nine passes in-a-row at one point. Shaky Smithson also played a pivotal role, giving the Utes good field position by returning three punts for 67 yards.
Utah had significant edges in total offense (184-68) and first downs (12-6) at the break.
Following halftime, the start of the second half was delayed by 15 minutes because one side of the stadium lights failed and needed to reboot.
Once play resumed, it didn't take long for a little wackiness to emerge..
On the first play from scrimmage, Cain completed a pass to Luke Matthews. The receiver was hit by New Mexico cornerback Anthony Hooks, who forced a fumble that was scooped up by free safety A.J. Butler. He then raced 27 yards for a touchdown.
The Lobos cut Utah's lead to 21-7, but failed to ignite a momentum shift.
In fact, the Utes responded quickly and often to the challenge.
Just 40 seconds after New Mexico's first touchdown, Cain teamed with Jereme Brooks on a 75-yard scoring strike.
Less than one minute later, linebacker Matt Martinez returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown.
The outburst extended Utah's lead to 35-7. And the Utes weren't finished..
With 9:48 to go in the third quarter, Smithson crossed the goal line on a 73-yard punt return — his second scoring scamper in two games.
"Shaky had another big day," Whittingham said. "Shaky is a weapon for us right now.
Trailing 42-7, New Mexico ended an impressive six-quarter shutout streak by the Utah defense. An 18-yard touchdown pass from Tarean Austin to Bryan Williams was the first offensive score allowed by the Utes since the opener against Pittsburgh.
Less than two minutes later, though, Utah matched it when Cain connected on a 33-yard TD pass to DeVonte Christopher.
Armed with a 49-14 lead, Cain was replaced by Griff Robles after the third quarter was complete. He completed his final 11 throws and set a new school record for accuracy in game — finding the mark on 20-of-23 attempts (87 percent) for 248 yards and three touchdowns.
"That's a great accomplishment for Terrance," Whittingham said. "He has played stellar in his two opportunities."
Cain, however, downplayed it.
"It's a great thing to hear," he said. "But the most important stat is we got the win, so that's all I'm worried about."
Before the game was complete, Robles orchestrated another scoring drive. A 24-yard touchdown run by Tauni Vakapuna and Phillips' eighth successful extra-point kick concluded all point production in the game.34 comments on this story
Whittingham left Albuquerque with his 30th career conference win and a positive end — most likely because of the Utes' move to the Pac-10 next season — to a competitive series in New Mexico, where Utah holds a 14-12-1 advantage.
"It's nice to have the departure from the usual grind-it-out nail-biter that we've had down here," said Whittingham, who reminded his team that the Utes blew a 21-point lead here in 2006. "We were not going to let that happen again. That was the halftime speech."
Utah (3-0 overall, 2-0 in MWC play) hosts San Jose State for homecoming next Saturday.