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Utes look to get back on track

Utah off to worst start since 2000, face Ags Saturday

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Can the Utes go back in time?

That's their hope after last week's 27-0 setback at UNLV. The loss came seven days after a surprisingly lopsided 44-6 win over UCLA.

"The challenge to us is to decide who we want to be. It's very obvious what our capabilities are when we all play together, and it's very obvious what happens when we don't come out and execute," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "So our challenge and our objective this week is to get back to that team we saw two weeks ago."

There's great urgency to do so.

The Utes are off to their worst start since 2000. At 1-3 overall and 0-2 in Mountain West Conference play, they've got little wiggle room for error.

"I think we're working our way through our issues," said Whittingham, who noted the defense didn't tackle well and the offense was out of sync in Las Vegas. "It's never going to be perfect — even the UCLA tape wasn't perfect. But certainly you come out in practice to work on your deficiencies."

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said the offense is working hard every day to prevent another disparity like the one Utah experienced between the UCLA and UNLV games.

"We're in full grinder mode right now. We've got to find ways to get better. We've obviously got to be a lot more productive than we've been," Ludwig said. "We're leaving a lot of plays on the field. We're doing a nice job in practice. It didn't translate last week. We've got to show up."

After being shutout for the first time since 1993, Utah's offense enters Saturday's homecoming game against Utah State on a low.

"It's not one thing. It's not one guy. It's not one group," Ludwig said. "It's a unit issue."

Involving, he added, players and coaches.

Quarterback Brian Johnson diagnosed the problem as a lack on execution. Having Utah's 166-game scoring streak snapped on his watch isn't sitting well.

"It's embarrassing. That's the bottom line. It's not what we're about offensively. It's embarrassing to leave points on the field like that," Johnson said. "We had plenty of opportunities to make plays, but we just didn't make them. So we've got to find a way to come out, be better this week and find a way to execute."

Priority No. 1: Putting points on the board.

"Scoring is the name of the game," Whittingham said. "Unless you find the end zone, nothing else really matters much, and we weren't able to do that much."

Utah's defensive woes center around tackling. Whittingham said the Utes missed 17 tackles last Saturday.

"I think we're fine," said defensive coordinator Gary Andersen, who pointed out that the defense has done a lot of good things this year. "We understand what we need to get better at. We've broke it down and evaluated it."

The solution isn't all that difficult.

"The bottom line with our tackling issues is I need to do a better job of coaching it. The assistant coaches need to do a better job of coaching it," Andersen said. "I don't carry it over to the kids,."

They will get better soon, he added, as everything comes together.

"We're excited about the game this week," Andersen said. "We're excited about getting back on the field."

Safety Steve Tate acknowledged Utah's tackling is in definite need of improvement.

"Obviously we're not pleased. It's something that we've got to fix," he said. "I think it goes back to the basic skills of tackling. We've got to do a better job."

There's no specific position group failing to do so, he continued, the entire defense is to blame.

"We can't settle for that. We were good against UCLA," Tate said. "We've got to clean it up. It's not acceptable for us."

EXTRA POINTS: Utah is 52-30-4 in homecoming games, including a 5-0 mark against USU ... The Mountain Sports Network will broadcast its live "Friday Night Pep Rally" show at Rice-Eccles Stadium at 7:30 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend. Former Ute and NFL star Jamal Anderson will be the special guest. Johnson and Tate will represent the current team ... A homecoming pep rally, featuring Whittingham, is planned for tonight at 9 in the Union Building.

On the air

Utah State (0-4, 0-1) at Utah (1-3, 0-2)

Saturday, 1 p.m.

Rice-Eccles Stadium

Radio: 700AM

TV: The mtn.

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com