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Utah Utes football: Team expects things to get tougher

Published: Saturday, Aug. 29 2015 3:11 p.m. MDT

Utah's DeVonte Christopher runs for a touchdown during the Utes' victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium. football Saturday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah's DeVonte Christopher runs for a touchdown during the Utes' victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium. football Saturday. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Now comes the tough stuff.

After outscoring their first seven opponents by a 334-90 margin, the ninth-ranked Utah Utes now embark on a challenging five-game stretch to end the season.

First up: Air Force, Saturday in Colorado.

"We're really excited to prepare hard to go play Air Force. They're a great team. We respect them a lot," said defensive end Christian Cox. "But we're ready to go make a statement. I think historically we've played them pretty close or they've played us pretty close and we don't want that to happen this year."

Following the Falcons, the Utes take on TCU, Notre Dame, San Diego State and BYU. The Horned Frogs and Cougars are coming to Rice-Eccles Stadium, the other three games are on the road.

"We've got a lot of tough challenges ahead of us," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "Starting this week with the Air Force Academy."

Justin Taplin-Ross, sitting on the shoulders of Matt Martinez, right, and Chad Manis, left, celebrate Utah's rout Saturday of Colorado State.  (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Justin Taplin-Ross, sitting on the shoulders of Matt Martinez, right, and Chad Manis, left, celebrate Utah's rout Saturday of Colorado State. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

Whittingham predicted it will be the Utes' toughest contest to date.

"We're pretty certain of that," he said.

LOOKING AHEAD: Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild had an interesting take on whether Utah was the best team the Rams have faced this season.

"They sure looked like it the way they played tonight," he said. "But TCU is very good as well. I'm anxious to see how that game goes in a few weeks."

The Utes and Horned Frogs will meet in Salt Lake City on Nov. 6.

EARLY SACK: It didn't take long for Utah's starting offensive line to give up its second sack of the season. CSU's Mychal Sisson got to Wynn midway through the first quarter, sacking him for an 8-yard loss.

However, it turned out to be the only time the Rams were able to break through.

"The offensive line played very well again tonight," Whittingham said. "If you get consistent play up front, everything else seems to be much easier to execute."

The Utes' first unit didn't give up a single sack through the first five games of the season. They almost made it to six before giving up one in the fourth quarter of last week's win at Wyoming.

FOCUSED ON THE RUN: Colorado State entered the game on the heels of a pair of 200-yard rushing efforts. The Rams managed only 28 on 24 carries against the Utes.

"I think we did exactly what we needed to do," said defensive lineman Derrick Shelby.

SHAK IS BACK: Sausan Shakerin didn't play until the fourth quarter, but he ended up being the leading rusher for the Utes Saturday night with 80 yards on four carries. Most of those yards came on one run, late in the game when the Utes were just trying to run out the clock.

The Utes were on their 28-yard line when Shakerin found an opening off guard, made a move and found nothing but daylight up the west side of the field for a 72-yard TD run.

"I saw (guard Daniel) Bukarau pull through and followed his block and then I saw it wide open," he said.

Shakerin missed the first four games because of a concussion, but is working his way back into the lineup. He gained 25 yards in the previous two games and scored a touchdown against Iowa State and is happy to be contributing again.

"It feels amazing," he said. "It puts a big smile on my face."

EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham said the Utes suffered no major injuries, just "bumps and bruises" in the game. … Jereme Brooks topped the team with seven receptions. DeVonte Christopher had 111 receiving yards. … Shaky Smithson had only one punt return, netting five yards. … CSU linebacker Ricky Brewer led all tacklers with 14. … The attendance was a rain-soaked 45,029.

Contributing: Mike Sorensen

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com

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