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U. hopes bye aids bowl push

Utah faces Wyoming with stiff challenge to finish with 6 wins

After eight games and its first bye week of the season, Utah has had varying degrees of success on both offense and defense.

They're second in the Mountain West Conference in pass efficiency (143.83 rating) and total offense (453.9 ypg); third in rushing offense (184.5 ypg), passing offense (268.5 ypg), passing defense (221.5 ypg), and scoring defense (25.1 ppg); fifth in pass-efficiency defense (126.85 rating) and total defense (381.5 ypg); sixth in rushing defense (160 ypg); and a disappointing seventh in scoring offense (26.4 ppg).

All things considered, the statistics are indicative of the Utes' season. They're 4-4 overall — sometimes good, sometimes bad. Most often inconsistent.

With a bowl bid weighing in the balance, Utah begins a crucial three-game stretch Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium against Wyoming. The Utes are hoping to build on their 42-32 win at UNLV on Oct. 22, where they snapped a three-game losing skid.

"We've got a lot of work ahead of us," said offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. "We've got to continue to build where we left off in Las Vegas — take care of the football and put points on the board."

Although quarterback Brian Johnson leads the MWC and ranks sixth nationally in total offense with 325.25 yards per game, Utah hasn't scored a lot of points. Inside the red zone, the Utes have a mediocre touchdown percentage of 60.7 percent.

Red-zone production may be Ludwig's No. 1 concern, but he's also determined to get the Utes on track when it comes to big plays and explosive plays from outside the zone.

The bottom line, Ludwig added, is "just finding ways to get more points on the board."

Injuries have hampered the effort. Wide receivers Travis LaTendresse and Brian Hernandez are hobbled by sore ankles, while starting tailback Quinton Ganther is questionable this week with a knee injury.

"I've got no control over that," Ludwig said. "We'll play with the guys we've got and we'll win with the guys we've got. That's the only approach we can take."

Utah's defense has also had to work around injuries, particularly on the line. Fortunately for the Utes, Fiesta Bowl MVP Steve Fifita has been there to provide leadership at tackle and end.

Despite steady play from veterans like linebacker Spencer Toone, as well as safeties Eric Weddle and Casey Evans, Utah's defense has struggled with inconsistency.

"Overall, as far as evaluating the defense, what we need to do is we need to continue to strive to put the big play behind us," said defensive coordinator Gary Andersen. "We have to play a little bit better every single week when we go out as a defense. I think we are doing that, but we have not been consistent enough on a regular scale."

Andersen does, however, like the strides some of the younger players are making. Topping the list is linebacker Joe Jiannoni, who has had 10 or more tackles in four consecutive games.

"He's going to get better, better and better as he goes," Andersen said before noting the play of fellow linebacker Kyle Brady as well. "I feel great about him. He's getting better, better and better also."

Another young standout is defensive end Martail Burnett. Andersen said the sophomore is really doing a nice job of progressing.

"There's some bright spots," Andersen added.

Utes on the air

Wyoming (4-4, 2-3) at Utah (4-4, 2-3)

Saturday, 1 p.m.

Rice-Eccles Stadium

TV: None

Radio: 700AM

Ganther still questionable

Utah tailback Quinton Ganther was on the practice field Wednesday, making hard cuts through cones. The Utes' leading rusher, who has a sore left knee following a non-contact injury last week, is hoping to play in Saturday's home game against Wyoming.

"I'd still say questionable," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "I feel better about it today than I did yesterday, but still he's got a ways to go in just a 72-hour period. So we'll see."

If Ganther isn't able to go, Whittingham said backups Darrell Mack, Mike Liti and Darryl Poston will all see time against the Cowboys.