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John Locher, Associated Press
Elijah Wesson and the Utes were stuffed by UNLV's Malo Taumua (93) in a 27-0 shutout last year.

When Mike Sanford was Utah's offensive coordinator, it took the Utes just nine weeks to win seven games. As UNLV's head coach, it took him a three years to reach that mark.

Last weekend's 27-17 victory over Utah State improved Sanford's record with the Rebels to 7-29. Two of those wins have come against the Aggies. Idaho, San Diego State, Idaho State, Air Force and Utah are the Rebels' other victims during that span.

The latter, a 27-0 triumph last season in Las Vegas, is Sanford's most significant win.

It also ignited a firestorm that caused some hard feelings with some of his former colleagues and players back in Salt Lake City. Sanford told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the Utes were trying to steer clear of UNLV running back Frank Summers, who ran for 190 yards and two touchdowns in last year's game.

"It's very evident on tape," he said in a quote to the newspaper. "They were avoiding trying to tackle him, no question in my mind."

At the Mountain West Conference meetings in July, Sanford said the remarks were "completely taken out of context" and "blown out of proportion." He then tried to set the record straight.

"I have tremendous respect for Utah, tremendous respect for their players, for Kyle, their coaching staff and their program," Sanford said.

The topic, however, has resurfaced this week with the 22nd-ranked Utes facing the Rebels to open Mountain West Conference play Saturday evening at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

But this time its significance is being downplayed.

"Every year is a new set of circumstances, it's own entity," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "So we don't get into that type of stuff — digging up stuff from last year. We leave that to other people."

Gotta love the media.

"This is 2008. That's all 2007. That's all past history," Sanford said. "Our entire focus is on this season and on this game. And it's all about who plays good this Saturday in Salt Lake. In that time frame between 6:06 p.m. and whenever that game ends. It's all about that. I think the past is past and it's all about this game, this week."

Whittingham called last year's controversy "water under the bridge."

Defensive coordinator Gary Andersen also had little to say about the assertion that the Utes were afraid to tackle Summers or anyone else in the last year's meeting between the two teams.

"My only comment to that is we're looking forward to the game on Saturday, and we're looking forward to this year," he said. "We're looking forward to playing Saturday."

It's a stance the players are taking as well.

"I never really read too much into that stuff. I don't think anybody on our team is afraid to tackle or whatever they said. We're just looking forward to another game," defensive end Paul Kruger said. "We've got high goals for ourselves, and we want to play well.

So to us it's just another game and we're looking forward to it."

Sanford is also taking a philosophical approach, dismissing the notion it could be a pivotal game for UNLV's future.

"I look at every game as a game that could turn our program around. It's a week-to-week thing," he said. "I don't hinge everything on one game because one game does not a season make. But at the same time this is our next game. This is our most important game because it is our game this week and it's our first conference game and obviously is a very good opponent."

A big game, he continued, but not one that the world's economy will depend on.

EXTRA POINTS: UNLV has lost 15 consecutive conference games on the road. The Rebels' last win was a 24-20 decision at BYU in 2004. ... Sanford's only road victory as UNLV's head coach was last year's 23-16 non-conference opener at Utah State. His teams are 1-17 overall away from Sam Boyd Stadium. ... Like Sanford, UNLV offensive line coach Keith Uperesa was also part of Urban Meyer's 2004 staff at Utah.

Home-opener

UNLV (1-0) at No. 22 Utah (1-0)

Saturday, 6 p.m.

TV: The mtn.

Radio: 700 AM


E-mail: [email protected]