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Utah Utes: Team has plenty of work to do

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Utah coach Kyle Whittingham talks to defensive back Joe Dale.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham talks to defensive back Joe Dale.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News

Before leaving Albuquerque, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he wasn't worried about how Saturday's closer-than-expected 13-10 victory over New Mexico would affect the Bowl Championship Series standings.

"It doesn't matter to me one bit," Whittingham said. "We are just going about our business to win games."

Turns out there was nothing to fret about.

The Utes moved up two spots to No. 8 in this week's BCS standings. They're ninth in the latest USA Today and Harris Interactive polls, as well as 10th in the Associated Press Top 25.

The latter represented the only backlash from Utah's subpar performance against New Mexico. AP voters opted to move Boise State ahead of the Utes. The AP rankings,

however, aren't included in the BCS standings and thus have no bearing on Utah's bid to break in to the system for the second time in four years.

A big hurdle, though, looms Thursday when 12th-ranked TCU visits Rice-Eccles Stadium.

For a myriad of reasons, Utah will have to play better than it did in New Mexico.

Despite netting 388 yards and 17 first downs in the victory, the Utes had trouble putting points on the board. Of their 11 drives, five ended with punts. Two turnovers (a fumble and an interception) and a loss-on-downs were the other negative finishes.

On the positive side, Louie Sakoda made a pair of field goals and Brent Casteel capped a "hook-and-ladder" play with Jereme Brooks and Brian Johnson with a 10-yard touchdown run.

Utah was penalized nine times for 79 yards, however, which also played a role in keeping the score down.

Whittingham acknowledged the Utes have a lot of things to clean up. At the same time, though, he also had reason to be pleased.

Our team was very resilient and handled adversity well, like we have done in two or three other games this season," Whittingham said.

"That is a gutsy group."

Utah's defense held New Mexico's ground-oriented offense to 114 yards. Rodney Ferguson, the Mountain West Conference's leading rusher, to just 34 yards on 13 carries. The Lobos failed to move into field-goal range on their final drive despite running 10 plays.

"The bottom line is we hung in there," Whittingham said. "The defense hung in there, and we found a way to win."

Besides extending the nation's second-longest winning streak to 10 games dating back to last season, Utah's run of victories includes just the second 9-0 start to a year in school history.

Even so, Whittingham wasn't looking at the big picture after the Utes' latest triumph. He's determined to take things one game at a time.

"Any time you can get out of Albuquerque with a win that's a good thing," he said.

Now it's all about TCU.

Utes on the air

No. 11 TCU (9-1, 6-0) at No. 10 Utah (9-0, 5-0)

Thursday, 6 p.m.


Radio: 700 AM

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com