For the entire football season, the Utes (7-3, 4-2 in the Mountain West Conference) have wanted Saturday's game in Provo to really mean something.

Thanks to BYU's (8-2, 5-1) loss at Wyoming (6-3, 3-2) Saturday night and Utah's 52-7 tune-up win Saturday afternoon in Rice-Eccles over New Mexico (3-6, 2-3), it does.The Utes can gain a share of the first MWC title if they beat BYU. If they lose, the Cougars are undisputed champions, and Utah could finish as low as fourth.

"We've got to play like we did (Saturday)," said Ute quarterback T.D. Croshaw, who improved his league-leading pass-efficiency rating 4.6 points to 156.8 and threw four touchdown passes and three interceptions that didn't hurt the Utes a bit. "We've got to get our running game started so everything is flowing."

The temptation is to think that Saturday's 45-point win came over some weak-sister opponent. But a week earlier, New Mexico outgained Colorado State in the first half 223-88 in total yards, had 475 total-offense yards by game's end, and the score was 29-22 with 9:39 left against the Rams. The Lobos had only 283 net yards on the Utes.

"It wasn't their weakness that made the score this way," said Utah defensive end John Frank. "We just decided to put all of our tools to work, and you saw the outcome."

"They physically dominated us in every aspect," said UNM coach Rocky Long. "They blocked us, and we couldn't shed the blocks. We didn't give up. We were simply manhandled."

"This was a Utah day," said Ute coach Ron McBride, adding his players "got all the monkeys off their backs" from the last two games and were sound in every phase of their game.

After watching the films on Sunday, McBride was gratified. "They really played hard. There were no mental lapses, no physical lapses, no guys being ineffective. They were all very focused on what they had to do," he said.

"The offensive line -- that was the best they've played all year," he said. That line was mainly made up of tackles Doug Kaufusi and Jordan Gross, guards Luis Park and Mike Richardson and center Steve McKane. When Richardson moved outside to end in the "jumbo" package, Ed Ta'amu moved to guard. Richardson at end "was a real plus," said McBride, and Ed got a lot of reps at guard.

"It was the kind of a game Michael (Anderson, 204 yards rushing) should have every week," McBride said. Anderson got his career high in part because the line played so well and because Utah was able to control the ball for 29 first downs, meaning more carries for Anderson.

The defensive line played well, too, with Garrett Smith and Ma'ake Kemoeatu hustling inside and Frank and Andy Bowers doing well at ends.

Tackle Lauvale Sape, injured most of the season, played a lot because starter Richard Seals has Achilles tendinitis. "Sape hustled and did a good job," McBride said.

NUMBER ONE: Steve Smith, with four punt returns for 163 yards and two touchdowns, re-took the NCAA lead, averaging 20.05 yards a return (22-for-441). He was also the national leader going into the Colorado State game. The Utes as a team rank second in the NCAA in punt returns averaging 17.6 yards a play.

HURTING: Slot receiver Boo Bendinger (two catches, 32 yards, one touchdown) suffered a broken left hand, but the break is in a spot where it can be protected, so McBride expects him to play in his final game as a Ute Saturday in Provo.