New Mexico has inflicted some pain on Utah over the years.

Besides winning four of the past five meetings, including the last two, the Lobos made hits that sidelined Ute stars Brandon Warfield, John Madsen and Brian Johnson.

They handed Urban Meyer his only home and conference loss during his tenure at Utah and are 2-0 against Kyle Whittingham.

"They've got the best of us ... Rocky Long has done a great job with that football team," said Whittingham, who couldn't pinpoint a reason for the Lobos' recent run of success in the series. "There's not one thing that stands out. It's been a street fight each and every year. They've just come out on top more often than not lately."

Johnson, who injured his knee in the 2005 game with New Mexico, acknowledged it's been frustrating.

"A couple of times we just shot ourselves in the foot and haven't played for an entire 60 minutes. We haven't played four quarters of good football against them. We've maybe played two or three," Johnson said. "Any time you let a team like that hang around and give them a chance to win the game, most often they'll do it. We've just to find a way to start fast and finish the game strong."

There's more than pride on the line when the teams meet this afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utes and Lobos share identical records — 7-3 overall, 4-2 in Mountain West Conference play — and still have hopes of winning the league championship.

In addition, they're seeking to impress representatives from the Poinsettia and New Mexico bowls, who will be in attendance at today's game.

With so much at stake, another tight battle is anticipated. The past two meetings have been decided by a combined seven points.

Whittingham said it'll come down to execution, as always. "There is extra preparation involved with (New Mexico's) 3-3-5, but it's still blocking and tackling. It doesn't change," he explained.

"The bottom line is we have to have clean execution on Saturday if we want to have a chance to be successful."

The game plan, Johnson noted, is secondary when it comes to facing the Lobos.

"It's about the players. We have to go out and make plays," he said. "We know what they're all about. They're a tough, physical group and they like to pressure the quarterback. So we just have to do a nice job making plays on offense, not turn the ball over and play for an entire 60 minutes."

The Utes enter the game on a wave of success. They've won six straight games and haven't given up a touchdown over 10 consecutive quarters.

"I still believe that this is a momentum league and Utah has the most momentum in our league right now," New Mexico coach Rocky Long said. "They're playing really well they're playing with a lot of confidence. They've got a lot of talent. They're going to be a tough team to beat."

As for next week's big game at BYU, the Utes are fighting the urge not to look that far ahead.

"BYU is a whole other story. We'll get into that next week," senior center Kyle Gunther said. "Keeping them off our minds will be tough. I've been thinking about BYU for weeks now. Trying to keep them off your mind and focus on New Mexico is kind of the toughest part right now."

Johnson, however, said it's a must considering how the Lobos have played against the Utes in recent meetings. He and BYU receiver Michael Reed, who are cousins, haven't even discussed the rivalry game yet.

"Not at all. My focus is on trying to beat New Mexico. We'll worry about what's after that after this game is over with," Johnson said.

"I haven't even talked to (Michael). My focus is on this game. We've both got to take care of the business at hand."

BYU can clinch at least a share of the MWC title with a win at Wyoming.

Utes 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: [email protected]