Tom Smart, Deseret News
Utah's Freddie Brown makes a big catch to set up a TD Saturday.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham took a big picture approach to Saturday's 42-21 win over UNLV.

"You don't judge the game in segments," he said. "You judge the game as a whole and as a whole I thought we played very well."

The Utes (2-0), who are now ranked 22nd in both the AP and coaches polls, overcame a slow start to roll past the Rebels at Rice-Eccles Stadium. They trailed 14-7 late in the first half before reeling off 35 straight points over the second, third and fourth quarters to pull away.

"I don't know why it took us until the second half to wake up offensively but we finally did," Whittingham said. "We were fortunate to be tied at halftime. In the second half we sharpened up."

Offense, defense and special teams all made key contributions as the Utes avenged last season's 27-0 setback at UNLV.

Quarterback Brian Johnson said revenge, however, was secondary to the process of preparing and playing well each week.

"We've still got a ways to go," he explained. "But we're proud to be 1-0 in conference. It's a big thing for us. That was step one in us accomplishing our goal as a team, which is to win the Mountain West Conference."

Other positives included six players (Johnson, Matt Asiata, Jereme Brooks, Freddie Brown, David Reed and Colt Sampson) scoring touchdowns; Louie Sakoda making all six PATs he attempted and not having one of his four punts returned; and a defense that held UNLV to just 11 yards (minus-6 rushing) in the decisive third quarter.

Most of the success came in the second half.

"We kind of woke up," defensive end Paul Kruger said. "I felt like we came out with the fight and energy we should have in the first half."

After being challenged to execute better in the locker room at halftime, the Utes responded. They were off to the races as soon as Reed returned the second-half kickoff 49 yards.

"We definitely needed a big momentum swing and we got it," Reed said.

Wide receiver Brent Casteel shrugged off the rough start offensively, noting that the team expected to face some adversity in the game.

"A lot was said at halftime but nothing really had to change," he said. "The first half was just weird. It was like something was in the air."

And after that ...

"The second half was our time to shine," Casteel continued.

It was a group effort.

By game's end, the Utes had 21 players make tackles; nine stop Rebels behind the line of scrimmage; eight catch passes; seven rush for positive yardage; four have pass breakups; two complete touchdown throws; and one defender notch both a sack and force a fumble.

UNLV running back Frank Summers had 82 yards rushing at halftime and added just five in the second half.

"I'm really proud of the way our guys handled adversity," Whittingham said.

The toughest thing to overcome was the season-ending injury to defensive lineman Lei Talamaivao. The sophomore suffered a broken leg in the first half of his first collegiate start. He moved up the depth chart when Kenape Eliapo hurt his left foot in the Michigan and will be sidelined for 6-8 weeks.

When Talamaivao went down, true freshman Sealver Siliga was called into duty and performed well. Seniors Greg Newman and Aaron Tonga were the other tackles in Utah's rotation. The Utes traditionally like to have four guys in the mix,

"Something's going to have to happen," said Whittingham, who explained that the coaching staff may have to "shuffle the deck" to find a solution. Former Timpanogos star David Kruger may have to be pulled out of a planned redshirt year, or defensive end Koa Misi may have to move back inside where he is also experienced.

Injuries, Whittingham lamented, are just an unfortunate part of football.


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com