clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Magic sand and change of attitude puts Utah in thick of WAC race

Sand, short sleeves and three quarters to go.

Utah coach Ron McBride dumped a little magic sand on the field for his players to see prior to Saturday's must-win football game with WAC Mountain Division co-leader New Mexico. The sand, he told the players, was sent to him by some guy in Hawaii who said he blessed it first. Then, McBride, who usually wears a windbreaker or jacket of some kind, warmed to the situation in the first quarter and discarded his jacket.And Utah won. For the first time in four games.

McBride's too superstitious to talk about the spirits that he figures helped Utah (4-4, 3-2) finally prevail, but long after the game, as he headed toward his car, he said this new, short-sleeved golf shirt tradition may be a tough one to live up to as the weather turns colder.

The idea that makes the most sense after Saturday's win - which keeps alive Utah's hopes for a division title and WAC championship berth (Dec. 6 in Las Vegas) - is that the 15-10 dispatch of New Mexico (6-2, 3-2) is simply one step.

"We're calling it the `four quarters,' " said Ute defensive tackle Mike Thomas. "This was just the first quarter of our goal. We've got the second quarter, which is Tulsa (Saturday at Tulsa); third quarter, Rice; and the final quarter, and the one we can't give up, that's BYU."

After Rice's win Oct. 18 at New Mexico renewed Utah's title chances, Thomas said the defense was "strictly business" in getting ready for the Lobos' high-powered option offense. Utah's defense held that offense, which came in averaging 242.7 rushing yards and 34 points a game, to 37 rushing yards and 10 points. The 37 yards were New Mexico's lowest rushing total since 1991. UNM's 196 yards of total offense was the first time it's been under 200 since 1993.

"From Monday, (McBride) told us we had to get our minds right. He said, `You know, it's a tossup for the WAC championship now. If it was a four-game season, we would play hard,' and that's what it basically is now - a four-game season," said Thomas.

While it was the kind of game only Halloween spooks could love - a combined three failed field goals, two failed PATs, two called-back touchdowns, two mishandled punt returns and a couple of bad long-snap plays - the Ute defense remained a rock.

It was strong up the middle, often putting rushers down hard on the backs of their shoulders if they tried to go straight. It got a push on New Mexico's offensive line, disrupting the Lobo option before it got started. The Utes made five quarterback sacks - equaling the number of times Graham Leigh had been sacked in the seven previous games. And it made six other tackles in the Lobo back-field.

"Our defense answered the call all day," said McBride.

NOTES: Starting defensive end Ryan Akina was suspended for the game because of a violation of team rules (not the incident in Oregon in which Akina and McBride had words). Tony Fatafehi stepped in and made three tackles, two sacks . . . Tight end Dirk Chris-tof-ferson was carted off the field in the fourth quarter with a broken right ankle. He had surgery Sunday and is out for the season . . . Running back Juan Johnson's sprained ankle makes him questionable this week. It swelled badly Sunday . . . Utah converted eight of 16 first downs after going 9-for-20 at Oregon. The Utes went to a full-house backfield for several third-down plays. Offensive coordinator Fred Graves said coaches were trying to think up more creative fourth-quarter third-down plays when linemen said to use the quarterback sneak. It worked three straight times on the drive on which Christofferson was hurt.