FORT COLLINS, Colo. With one starting linebacker out for the season and another hobbling around on two bad ankles, the Ute defense could have been in trouble Saturday at Colorado State. The Rams scored 48 points the week before and were averaging 26 points per game.
But two sophomore linebackers came up big for the Utes in holding the Rams to just a field goal in a 27-3 victory.
Stevenson Sylvester and Mike Wright each had seven tackles to help lead a defense that lost Kyle Brady for the year to an Achilles injury and is getting limited play from captain Joe Jiannoni because of his injured ankles.
The Ute defense kept the Rams out of the end zone and kept constant pressure on quarterback Caleb Hanie and his backup, Billy Ferris, sacking them seven times for 58 yards.
"Our run defense and our ability to get to the quarterback was the key to the ball game today," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
Wright, who prepped at Bountiful High, came up with two sacks, nailing Ferris early in the third quarter for an 8-yard loss and later dropping Hanie for a 7-yard loss.
"It felt great," said Wright. "Our D-line opened up a hole for me, and I just came in there and made the plays."
Sylvester also came up with a tackle for a loss and seemed to be around the ball all game.
"Our main goal was to stop the run," Sylvester said. "We didn't do that too well on the first drive, but we tightened up the rest of the game, made the plays."
He was pleased for Wright, who hadn't played much so far this season with just eight tackles on the year coming into the game.
"I'm so happy for him it was a lot of fun," Sylvester said.
Wright is another one of those players that used to play for defensive coordinator Gary Andersen at Southern Utah.
"He's adjusted himself well to being a quality player right now and is doing a good job," Andersen said.
The Utes also got good performances from Steve Tate, who led the team with 12 tackles and had an interception, and defensive end Martail Burnett, who had 11 tackles, including 1.5 sacks.
"He did a nice job of rushing the passer all day," Andersen said. "We had a bunch of sacks, and that's a huge part." Tate said it's important to have other young players coming up big on defense."That's been the theme of our whole season, young guys stepping up and making plays," Tate said. "It's no different right now. We have young guys stepping up, and you're seeing that."