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U. coaches expect to see sharper effort

Great strides typically made between the first and 2nd games

Apparently, there's something to the old adage that a football team shows its greatest improvement between the first and second games of the season.

Utah's coordinators believe it as the Utes prepare for Saturday's game with Utah State — eight days after their season-opening 27-24 win over Arizona.

"I do. I believe it for the sheer reason that everything is not new," said defensive coordinator Gary Andersen. "Especially when you have a young team."

Great strides, he explained, are made once newcomers experience live action for the first time.

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig agrees.

"There's no way to practice or rehearse the feeling that you have playing in front of 45,000 people," he said. "You cannot replicate the energy and the adrenaline that's going through your system."

With six new starters on both sides of the ball, Utah had plenty of beneficiaries last weekend.

"You should improve every week throughout the course of a season — some positions more than others, some age groups more than others — but you should improve every week," Ludwig said. "But the most dramatic improvement should come, especially with young players, from their first game to their second game."

Continual improvement is something both of Utah's coordinators expect.

"There should be a higher level of consistency in our play — individually and as a unit," Ludwig said. " . . . Nothing just happens. We've got to work for it to happen."

Offensively, the Utes are trying to build on a 446-yard performance.

"The numbers were good but we need more consistency. We need to convert on third downs and have a few less three-and-outs. Those will happen but there were far too many of them Friday night," Ludwig said. "The big plays were nice but we need to match some big plays with some consistent long drives."

Utah's defense is also determined to maintain consistency. The Utes had a second-half lapse that allowed the Wildcats to climb back into contention from a 17-point deficit.

Andersen was pleased that his guys ran to the ball, hustled and played hard. Specific areas of concern, he noted, include the defensive line and middle linebacker.

Tackles Kelly Talavou and Paul Soliai need to play better, said Andersen, in order to free up all-American candidate Steve Fifita from double-team coverages. Andersen would also like to see improved contributions from Grady Marshall and Joe Jiannoni in the center of the linebacking corps.

"We can tighten our ship," said Andersen, who is confident Utah's defense is capable of fixing things and improving from good to great.

PLAYING HURT: When junior safety Casey Evans rose to make the game-clinching interception in the closing seconds of Friday's win over Arizona, he did so with a meniscus tear in his right knee.

"I didn't feel a thing," Evans said. "I wasn't thinking about it there."

Evans, who had arthroscopic surgery on Saturday to repair the slight tear, sustained the injury on a punt earlier in the game. It popped out again a few plays later at the start of the fourth quarter.

"He's just a tough nut," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. " . . . He just sucked it up and finished the game. He's a soldier."

Evans is expected to resume practicing today and hopes to play against USU this weekend. The injury, Evans explained, is fixed and cannot be damaged any further. He's already regained much of his range of motion.

Whittingham said Evans will play as long as his knee isn't puffy or swollen.

OTHER INJURIES: Aside from minor aches and pains, Whittingham said the Utes are "in excellent shape" health-wise.

Wide receiver John Madsen is all the way back from a hamstring pull and tailback Darryl Poston practiced Wednesday after missing time with an ankle injury. Offensive lineman Tavo Tupola is recovering from sore ribs and running back Mike Liti is 80 percent recovered from an ankle injury.

Defensive back Kawika Casco is listed as questionable with a pulled hamstring.

"We're not saving anybody," Whittingham said. "We've got to win this game and we're not going to compromise our chances to win this game in any way, shape or form."

Battle of the brothers

Utah State (0-0) at Utah (1-0)

Saturday, 6 p.m.

Rice-Eccles Stadium

TV: KJZZ, Ch. 14

Radio: KALL 700AM (SLC), KVNU 610AM (Logan)