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Still perfect

Utes hit their full stride on offense and defense

With Carolina no longer on its mind, undefeated Utah finds itself like a promising candidate on election night.

Facing one of the nation's lowest-ranked defenses, they racked up 669 yards of total offense — the second-highest tally in school history — and 35 first downs.

Saturday's 46-16 win over North Carolina closed what Utah hopes will be a successful campaign for respect in this season's first Bowl Championship Series rankings.

Though results won't be revealed until Monday, the Utes (6-0) are in prime position for good news. They entered the week ranked 10th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and 11th in the Associated Press Top 25 and have now won 10 straight games over the past two seasons.

The latest triumph came before the fourth-largest crowd in Rice-Eccles Stadium history. A packed house of 45,319 provided an enthusiastic atmosphere for the would-be BCS busters.

Led by quarterback Alex Smith and wide receiver Steve Savoy, the Utes improved to 5-1 against BCS schools under coach Urban Meyer with a convincing win in their first game against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.

"I was very impressed with how our offense played tonight," said Meyer. "Alex really played well and our offensive line allowed him to sit back there and pick them apart. That was really the first time we've been able to do that."

Smith, now 15-1 as Utah's starter, threw for 341 yards (topping 300 for the third time in his career) and four touchdowns before giving way to back-up Brian Johnson early in the fourth quarter. He completed 10 passes to Savoy, who wound up with 154 yards receiving and a score. The sophomore also rushed for 54 yards, one less than Smith.

"For the offense to come out there and perform the way we did was great," said Smith. "We spread the ball around and did so many things well. We really hit full stride."

Savoy, a former North Carolina recruit, backed up comments earlier in the week that he wanted to show the Tar Heels (3-4) that they missed out on something special.

It was one of several messages delivered on a night when the visitors lost eight players to injury, including quarterback Darian Durant, who sprained his right elbow.

The Utes added to a 20-point halftime lead by outscoring the Tar Heels 16-7 in the second half. A 5-yard run by Smith and a 15-yard pass to John Madsen produced touchdowns that preceded a team safety created when Grady Marshall blocked a punt late in the game.

Carolina surprised Utah by opening the game with a sustained scoring drive. The Tar Heels converted on third down twice and fourth down once while marching 59 yards on 11 plays to take a 7-0 advantage less than six minutes into the contest. Running back Madison Hedgecock capped the series with the first of two 1-yard touchdown runs he had in the game — the second came in the third quarter.

Trailing for just the second time this season, Utah responded with a flurry before the half was complete. The Utes led 30-10 at the intermission after racking up 396 yards of total offense.

The defense got things kick-started after Utah's first possession ended with four plays and a punt. Marquess Ledbetter forced a North Carolina fumble and Spencer Toone recovered it to give the Utes possession on the Tar Heel 29.

Smith and Savoy prevented another stalled drive by teaming on a 23-yard pass play on third down. Marty Johnson followed with a 1-yard run as Utah pulled even midway through the first quarter. Bryan Borreson later added a 22-yard field goal — his ninth-straight successful kick over two seasons — to make it 10-7.

The margin swelled in the second quarter when Smith fired three touchdown passes for Utah, while UNC managed just a 29-yard field goal by Connor Barth. Quinton Ganther's 5-yard reception opened the outburst, which ended with a 46-yard scoring strike to Savoy and a 6-yard TD catch by Paris Warren.

The latter came with only 1.8 seconds remaining in the half. It ended a 99-yard drive by the Utes that featured 10 plays and took less than two minutes to complete.

Smith powered the sequence by completing 6-of-7 passes for 67 yards. He also rushed for 32 yards on three carries.

Bowl-eligible Utah begins a season-ending stretch of five consecutive Mountain West Conference games Saturday at home against UNLV. North Carolina has a bye before hosting nationally ranked Miami in ACC on Oct. 30.


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com