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U.'s Ratliff being thrown in fire with 1st start at Y.

Before being thrust into emergency duty late in Saturday's 31-27 loss to New Mexico, backup quarterback Brett Ratliff's Utah career had been limited to brief appearances in lopsided wins over Utah State and Wyoming.

With Brian Johnson on the shelf with a season-ending knee injury, Ratliff's role has obviously changed. The junior college transfer will be the starter Saturday when the Utes face BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.

"We're going to rally around Brett. He's our guy. He's a big strong kid with a strong arm," Whittingham said. "Obviously, he has not played much at all this season so that's a negative going in. His experience at the Division I level is limited to about 20 snaps, but nonetheless he's our guy."

Ratliff was summoned into action with 1:34 remaining in Saturday's game. A personal foul call on a fourth-down play — a run that left Johnson with a likely ACL tear — gave Utah an additional opportunity to prevail and become bowl eligible.

On first down, Ratliff connected on a 21-yard pass to Travis LaTendresse. Then came an offsides penalty that moved the ball to the New Mexico 14.

Additional progress, however, was thwarted by an incompletion and an interception. Lobo defensive end Michael Tuohy's pick off with 1:10 remaining put an end to Utah's comeback bid. It capped a tough night for the Utes, who lost top receiver John Madsen to a broken fibula in the first quarter.

"We lost a couple of very good football players," Whittingham said. "We're going to have to rally up and have some guys step forward, make the best of a tough situation."

The impending task? A trip to BYU with a shorthanded team.

"We've got to go down to Provo and play a team that's got a lot of momentum," Whittingham said. "(And do so) without our starting quarterback and without our top receiver."

The prospect, thereof, will most certainly alter Utah's game plan.

"We'll have to sit down and think long and hard about what we're going to do," Whittingham said. "It's going to change it, I'll tell you that. How dramatically will remain to be seen."

Ratliff, he added, is a different style of quarterback than Johnson.

"We're going to have to tailor some things around him and adapt," Whittingham said. "I don't think you're going to see complete wholesale changes . . . Brett knows the offense. He's a very smart kid. It's just a matter of deciding what he does best and narrowing the scope down to just that."

Ratliff, who normally takes about a fourth of the quarterback snaps in practice, will get a majority of the reps this week. Third-stringer Danny Southwick is now the second option and will inherit Ratliff's workload.

Specifics regarding Utah's offensive scheme this week will remain a mystery until Saturday's game, Whittingham said Sunday evening.

Following the loss to New Mexico, defensive back Eric Weddle told reporters he didn't have any concerns about the team. The Utes, noted the junior, will practice hard — playing their hearts out, showing intensity in their pursuit of a bowl bid.

"That's the only thing that we can shoot for right now," Weddle said. In our minds if we think we can't get to a bowl game, there's not much more to play for."

Three teams in the Mountain West Conference (TCU, BYU and New Mexico) are already bowl eligible. Colorado State and Utah can join them with season-ending victories this weekend.

"BYU is having a good year this year. We respect them and respect what they are doing down there," Weddle said of Utah's season finale. "We still have a chance to go to a bowl game and that revolves around us beating BYU down there. That's our mindset. We're going to try, we're going to prepare. That's all we can do right now."


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com