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Utah Utes football: Ute defense has plenty to be proud of after win

Published: Sunday, Oct. 16 2011 11:38 p.m. MDT

Utah defensive back Eric Rowe (18) breaks up a pass to Pittsburgh wide receiver Devin Street (15) in the NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011, in Pittsburgh. Utah won 26-14.

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Derrick Shelby and the Utah defense made quite a statement in Saturday's 26-14 victory over Pitt at Heinz Field.

The Panthers' only points came on special teams. Their offense managed just 120 yards and 12 first downs.

Pitt coach Todd Graham called it "abysmal" and "embarrassing."

Running back Ray Graham, who entered the game as the national leader in total rush yards, managed just 46 on 12 carries. Quarterbacks Trey Anderson and Tino Sunseri were a combined 9-of-30 passing for 50 yards. They were sacked six times and intercepted twice.

"I can't say enough about how our defense played," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. The numbers were outstanding."

They played hard from start to finish, he added, and were smart.

"That what we've got to do. The last couple of weeks we've been coming out in kind of coming out in a lull after a turnover and things like that," Shelby said. "So this week we kind of wanted to show that we could fight the whole way through no matter what happened."

After giving up first-quarter touchdowns on a kickoff return and a blocked punt, the Utes trailed 14-3.

"We kept fighting and nobody ever questioned anything and we kept playing," Whittingham said. "The fight is starting to become our personality, our m.o. — never quit playing and give everything they've got. We have a few things to fix and correct, but effort is not one of them."

John White helped the offense chew up the clock with 171 yards on 38 carries, kicker Coleman Petersen went on to make a career-high four field goals and the defense held firm as the Utes rallied to victory.

The latter evolved around shutting Graham down.

"We knew we had to tackle this guy," Shelby said. "And it looks like we did that."

And more.

Shelby wound up sealing the deal on a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:12 remaining. It highlighted a stellar performance for the defensive end. Besides the pick-six, he wound up with a team-high seven tackles (six solo), 2.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks.

On Sunday, Shelby was named National Defensive Player of the Week by the prestigious Walter Camp Football Foundation.

The senior from Houston is racking up some impressive numbers this season — 23 tackles, 6 pass deflections, 5.5 tackles-for-loss, 5 pass breakups, 2 quarterback hurries, plus touchdowns off an interception and a fumble recovery.

Shelby's first score came early in the BYU game when quarterback Jake Heaps lost the ball in the end zone. His second touchdown moves him up to third on Utah's scoring list, putting in a tie with receiving leader DeVonte Christopher, tight end Dallin Rogers and receiver Dres Anderson. White tops the chart with 42 points and Petersen is second with 41.

When asked if he should now be known as "Mr. Touchdown," the 6-foot-3, 271-pound Shelby politely declined.

"Nah," he said. "I wish."

Utes on the air

Utah (3-3, 0-3) at

California (3-3, 0-3)

AT&T Park, San Francisco

Saturday, 5 p.m. (MT)

TV: KJZZ

Radio: 700AM

Email: dirk@desnews.com, Twitter: @DirkFacer

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