Utah safety Steve Tate finally got his due.

The senior captain, who has led the Utes in tackles the past two seasons, earned an accolade that has eluded him throughout his career — Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Week recognition (sharing the award with UNLV's Beau Bell).

"It's a tribute to our team, our defense, and how well we played.

"That's the important thing," Tate said. "We played well as a defense ... I kind of got the benefit of the whole defensive unit."

The former Skyline High star made 12 tackles, intercepted a pass and had a quarterback sack in Utah's 27-3 victory at Colorado State last Saturday.

"Well deserved. I thought he might have got it a time or two prior, but he finally got recognized this week," head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He's played good football for us all year long. He leads our team in tackles, and he's a team leader on defense. I was happy to see him get that."

Defensive coordinator Gary Andersen agrees. He praised Tate for being a leader, taking care of business and for making plays.

"It's a well-deserving award for him," Andersen said. "He's put three or four games together this year that have been very, very good."

Tate's efforts, which include a team-high 78 tackles (50 solo) this year, have helped the Utes (6-3, 3-2) win five straight games.

"We expect him to make a lot of plays," said Andersen, who noted that Tate is in a very high-profile position at strong safety. "And he's done a great job."

Tate has 20 more tackles than anyone on the team. He's made 6 1/2 stops behind the line of scrimmage with two sacks, two interceptions and a pass breakup through nine games.

It's taken the MWC, however, quite a while to notice Tate's impact. A year ago, despite leading the Utes with 102 tackles, he only netted honorable mention all-conference honors. In Tate's two bowl appearances with Utah — the 2005 Emerald Bowl and 2006 Armed Forces Bowl — he led the team with 10 tackles in each game.

Though Tate uses the lack of accolades for some motivation, it's not something he thinks about too often.

"As long as we're winning," he said. "I feel good about how I'm playing."

Tate compares his situation to that of Jerry Sloan and the NBA's Coach of the Year award — recognition the longtime Utah Jazz leader has never received.

"That doesn't necessarily mean he's not a good coach," Tate said. "It's just other coaches at the time were doing a good job. I think that's kind of what I've been going through sometimes."

Tate simply refuses to get caught up in it. While it's nice to get recognized, he explained, you can't get too disappointed when you don't.

As such, Tate just plays the game. Making tackles is his thing, something on which he puts a premium.

"I think a lot of times people overlook the skill of tackling in the sport. I compare it to basketball. It's kind of like rebounding," he said. "It's kind of a dirty man's job."

Tate, however, doesn't mind.

"I take pride in doing it," he acknowledged. "Sometimes I think that's overlooked, but I don't pay too much attention to it. I have to go out and do my job week in and week out.

EXTRA POINTS: The Utes will wrap up their three bye-week practices today ... Wide receiver Freddie Brown, who missed the CSU game with a concussion, is back on the field again ... ESPN.com's latest bowl projections have Utah ticketed for the New Mexico Bowl and a date with Nevada.

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