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Dodds leads defense in big plays, finally

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Corey Dodds has come of age.

After two quiet seasons as a dependable reserve, the former Hillcrest High star has stepped into the spotlight as a starter.

In Utah's 28-21 win at Colorado State Saturday, Dodds recorded a game-saving interception in the final minute and pounced on a fumble in the end zone for the contest's first touchdown. They were the latest in a series of big plays by the linebacker. He entered the contest with a team-high three fumble recoveries and two fumbles caused.

"He's an opportunistic kid," said Utah defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham. "He's leading the team in big plays, and that's probably the most important stat we pay attention to defensively."

Dodds, whose 12 tackles in Utah's first three games this season equaled his total over 23 previous appearances for the Utes, was in the right place for his collegiate score. When CSU quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt's errant pitch attempt to Marcus Houston fell into the end zone, Dodds emerged from a group of Utes and dove on it.

Scoring touchdowns was commonplace for the junior in high school. He was an all-state tight end and linebacker in both Nevada and Utah. He excelled at Mojave High in Las Vegas before transferring to Hillcrest when he was a senior. In his first two seasons at Utah, Dodds saw action as a back-up linebacker and special teams performer.

DECENT DEBUT: Whittingham praised the performance of freshman Eric Weddle. He recorded six tackles, including one for loss, in his first-ever game as a cornerback. In high school, Weddle played quarterback, safety and receiver.

"He had some balls caught on him," Whittingham said. "But I tell you what, he held up pretty darn good."

INJURED UTE: Reserve linebacker Aaron Bryant suffered a knee injury in the game. The extent, however, will likely not be known until Monday.

CONFERENCE OPENERS: Though just 3-2 in Mountain West Conference openers, Utah had traditionally performed well at the start of league play. The Utes are now 70-22-2 overall in first games. They were 24-14 in the WAC (1962-98); 13-0-1 in the Skyline Conference (1948-61); 5-4-1 while in the Big 7 (1938-47); and 25-2 during their Rocky Mountain days (1910-37).

WORK IN PROGRESS: A $15.2 million gift from the Bohemian Foundation is giving CSU's football facilities a much-needed update. Work on Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium, as the Rams' home at the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills was redubbed at last May's announcement, is supposed to be complete before the 2005 season opener.

Renovations include new artificial turf at the stadium and at a nearby practice field; two new scoreboards; a large state-of-the-art video board; an 18 percent increase in seating capacity (currently listed at 30,000); permanent seating in the north end zone; a renovated and improved press box; the addition of 16 luxury suites; more concession stands and restrooms; as well as an increase in paved parking.

COACHING AGAIN: Former CSU coach Earle Bruce, who hired Meyer to be his receivers coach in 1990, will soon be back on the sidelines. Earlier this week, Bruce signed a two-year contract to become head coach of the Columbus (Ohio) Destroyers of the Arena Football League.

Before being replaced by Lubick following the 1992 season, Bruce was 22-24-1 in four seasons with the Rams. He was 2-2 against the Utes.

LONG HISTORY: Saturday marked the 72nd meeting between CSU and Utah. That makes the Rams Utah's fourth-most frequent opponent. Utah has played Utah State more than any other school (103 times), followed by BYU (84) and Wyoming (75).

FUZZY START: Although Utah leads the series (48-21-2) with CSU, the beginning was inauspicious. In the original game in 1902, the schools battled to a 0-0 tie.

PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENT: Some of CSU's best days ever came against the Utes. Running back Tony Alford set the all-time school single-game rushing record against Utah in 1989, carrying for 310 yards. Also, the second-highest total offense mark — 408 yards — was set against the Utes in 1983. That year Terry Nugent passed for 402 yards and ran for another six.

PACK THE PLACE: After drawing a record crowd of 46,768 to the ESPN-televised win over California on Sept. 11, Utah officials are determined to fill Rice-Eccles Stadium for Friday's ESPN 2 tilt with Oregon.

"We'd like to pack it again," said Marc Amicone, assistant athletic director for marketing. "For us, it just makes things so much more electric and more fun for the team. It gives us more energy."

To facilitate another big crowd, Utah is offering a $5 general admission bounce-back special to high school students who were admitted free to the Cal game. The program will be expanded and include junior highs as well. In addition, the Deseret Morning News is sponsoring a promotion that allows a family of five to sit in reserved bleachers for $45 and chair seats for $75.