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Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Utah's defense keeps Wyoming running back Devin Moore from making any yardage in the first half last Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Wyoming's Joe Glenn isn't the only opposing coach to raise Utah's ire this season.

Remember what Mike Sanford said after UNLV's surprising 27-0 win over the Utes on Sept. 22?

Utah's defense does.

Sanford, who was the Utes' offensive coordinator from 2003-04, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that it was "very evident on tape" that his former team struggled trying to stop UNLV running back Frank Summers. He rushed for 190 yards and two touchdowns in the game.

"They were avoiding trying to tackle him," Sanford said. "No question in my mind."

Summers also delivered a zinger.

"We watched the film today and we just kind of laughed at all the people that dived at my ankles after a while," he told the newspaper. "People were just throwing themselves in front of me."

The comments didn't sit well with the Utes.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called them "very low class" and criticized Sanford for blasting other people's players in the press.

Defensive coordinator Gary Andersen took a direct shot at Sanford.

"Desperate people feel and say desperate things," he said.

The Utes, as it turned out, did more than just talk about it. They used UNLV's critique as motivation.

"After the remarks we made it a goal of ours to never let that happen again," safety Steve Tate said. "That was kind of the turning point for us defensively."

Utah hasn't lost a game since — reeling off six straight victories.

The Utes enter Saturday's home finale with New Mexico on a defensive roll. They haven't allowed a touchdown in 10 consecutive quarters. The streak dates back to the second half of a 27-20 win at TCU on Oct. 18.

As was the case with Glenn's "guarantee" of victory to a group of Wyoming students, Utah's defense has rallied around Sanford's remarks.

"To me, I think that was the turning point of the season," Tate said. "We kind of took that as a slap to the face, in a sense, personally I did.

"From that point forward, I think that's where we played our best football. I think there's no doubt," he added.

The Utes are now among the nation's leaders in pass efficiency defense (fourth), scoring defense (fifth) and passing defense (eighth). They currently top the Mountain West Conference in each category.

"We're playing well. That shows on game day," said Tate, who leads Utah with 84 tackles. "The coaches have done a great job putting us in position and we've made plays when we needed to. Other than that, I think we have a lot of confidence."

Tate noted a couple of other motivational factors. The fact that no Utes were included on the preseason all-conference team and all the talk about Utah's offense early in the season helped light a fire under the defense.

After last week's 50-0 win over Wyoming, Whittingham gave special praise to the defense. He called it the storyline of the game.

"We got turnovers, sacks and I am pleased with the way they were able to make a difference in the ballgame," Whittingham said.

New Mexico's Rocky Long has taken notice. In preparing for Saturday's game, he said Utah's defense is strong up front and has great speed.

And they are playing, he added, with great enthusiasm.

Since halftime of its game with TCU (when the Utes led 24-17), Utah has built a 10-quarter streak without allowing a touchdown. A look back at how those quarters transpired.

Utah . . . 0 . . . 3 . . . 14 . . . 6 . . . 0 . . . 7 . . . 10 . . . 30 . . . 3 . . . 7 . . . — . . . 80

Opponent . . . 0 . . . 3 . . . 3 . . . 0 . . . 0 . . . 0 . . . 0 . . . 0 . . . 0 . . . 0 . . . — . . . 6

On the air

New Mexico (7-3, 4-2) at Utah (7-3, 4-2)

Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Rice-Eccles Stadium

Radio: 700AM TV: The mtn.

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com