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Despite win, Utes looking for answers

Now comes the next encore.

The first one wasn't so good for Utah. The Utes followed a 44-6 thumping of UCLA with a shocking 27-0 loss at UNLV. Friday night on ESPN, they'll visit Louisville — six days after earning their second win of the season, a 34-18 victory over Utah State at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

"I'm not going to sit here and say 'OK, now we've got all the answers.' I never said that after the UCLA game — never, ever eluded to anything even remotely close to that," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said after Saturday's win. "So what we did was we got back on the right track (against the Aggies). We played a solid football game, but we realize there's big challenges ahead."

At 2-3 overall, including an 0-2 mark in Mountain West Conference play, the Utes picked up a much-needed boost of momentum.

"It picks us up a little bit," Whittingham said. "We've still got seven ballgames. There's a lot of football left."

Utah began preparations for Louisville Sunday night by watching film.

"I'm sure there's things we could have corrected and done better," defensive end Paul Kruger said. "But as far as right now, we're just excited to be on top, be on top of our game and be back to where we feel we have momentum going into Louisville."

Whittingham acknowledged his team gave a much better effort than it did at UNLV and made improvements across the board.

"We responded a lot better to adversity than we did last week. Last week we had some adversity and had no response," he said. "This week we battled through some situations, ended up getting the lead and never

relinquished it."

Utah trailed 7-0 at one point before pulling ahead for good with a 22-yard scoring strike from Brian Johnson to Jereme Brooks and a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown by Derrek Richards. The Utes eventually built a lead as large as 24 points early in the fourth quarter.

"We came out, gave a great effort and did the things we knew we could on offense and defense," Kruger said. "So it was a big win for us."

In his initial review of the game, Whittingham noted that the offense was a little sporadic, the defense played decent and special teams was a big plus.

Tailback Darrell Mack paced the offense by rushing for a career-high 132 yards and a touchdown. The ground game opened things up for Brian Johnson, who completed 18-of-29 passes for 181 yards and two scores. Jereme Brooks and Marquis Wilson had the TD receptions.

On the negative side, Johnson was intercepted twice in his first complete game as a starter in nearly two years. The junior, who Whittingham acknowledged was a bit rusty, said he's about 90 percent to 95 percent recovered from a shoulder separation he suffered in the season-opening loss at Oregon State.

Utah's defense bounced back from a subpar effort in Vegas, where it missed 17 tackles in the setback.

Safety Steve Tate led the Utes with 13 stops Saturday. Kyle Brady and Kruger each finished with 10. Five players teamed to make seven tackles for loss.

It was special teams, however, that stole the show.

Besides the usual strong showing by Louie Sakoda, who made three PATs, two field goals and stuck two punts inside the 20, Utah's return specialists had stellar outings.

Derrek Richards racked up 135 yards on four punt returns, while Brice McCain and Elijah Wesson excelled on kickoffs. McCain had a 44-yard return, and Wesson added a 21-yarder.

"Special teams were a big plus for us," Whittingham said. "I thought our special teams controlled the football game."

The Utes resume practice this afternoon determined to maintain consistency. Johnson said maintaining a high level of execution is something the team is focusing on.

And how.

"We want to be to the point where we are playing Utah football like we know we can," Kruger added. "And every week we want to make that happen."