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Chris Schneider, Associated Press
Utah's Lamar Chapman (21) strips the ball away from Air Force tight end Joshua Freeman (81) in the first quarter of Saturday's MWC duel.

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Utes weren't great defensively on Saturday, but they did pick a good time to improve in one area: turnovers.

Utah recovered three fumbles and intercepted two passes in its 28-23 win over Air Force.

"They did a great of bending but not breaking," said quarterback Jordan Wynn of the defense. "We kind of gave up a big play or two but then we forced some turnovers and in crunch time got it done."

For the Utes, turnover margin has been a sore spot in an otherwise phenomenal season. Normally a team that forces a lot of turnovers, Utah has been on the short end most of this year. The Utes came into the game ranked 97th in turnover margin, while this week's opponent, TCU, was ranked 28th.

"Yeah, that's something we've been talking about," said offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom, "so we tried to knock it down defensively, and in the end, we did the job and came out the way we finally wanted to come."

The Utes started the game by allowing a 34-yard pass play, but Brandon Burton stripped the ball and Greg Bird recovered. Lamar Chapman forced a fumble on Air Force's third possession and Brian Blechen recovered. Bird forced a fumble in the second quarter and Christian Cox recovered.

Utah also had interceptions by Blechen and Justin Taplin-Ross.

Taplin-Ross' play with 14:51 seemed to salt the game away with Utah leading 28-10. But Air Force scored two touchdowns in a minute and 12 seconds to pull within striking distance.

"There's no easy way to play Air Force," said Bergstrom.

Last week, Utah had three fumbles, losing one against CSU. Against Wyoming, Utah had three interceptions. Utah also lost a fumble against Iowa State. Even against lowly New Mexico, the Utes fumbled four times, losing three.

In the season-opener against Pitt, Utah had two fumbles and an interception.

Meanwhile, the Ute defense overall tightened up in the closing seconds, after Air Force had cut the lead to five.

On the Falcons' final possession, the Utes allowed two quick pass completions, but then sacked Falcon quarterback Tim Jefferson as time ran out.

The five forced turnovers were a season high for Utah.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com