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Utah football: Washington's defense bends but comes up with big plays

Published October 1, 2011 12:07 am

College football • Huskies not shutting opponents down, but getting crucial stops.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Utes, whose defense has been very good at coming up with a big stop or creating a turnover when they need it most this year, might get a taste of their own medicine in Saturday's game against Washington.

The Huskies are giving up 453.2 yards of total offense, but are utilizing the "bend but don't break" philosophy to its fullest extent.

The Huskies kept Cal out of the end zone to preserve a 31-23 victory, forcing a turnover on downs, after the Bears drove 85 yards to Washington's 2-yard line.

Earlier in the year, cornerback Desmond Trufant made an interception late in the game to preserve a 30-27 win over Eastern Washington.

The late-game heroics have Washington feeling better about its defense, even if the Huskies are giving up more yards than in 2008, when they went 0-12 and allowed 451.8 yards a game.

Opponents are still finding success — scoring 18 out of 20 trips to the red zone, including 11 touchdowns — but the defense is finding ways to get things done when it must, said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

"They get the stops when they have to," Whittingham said. "They bend a little through the course of a game, then they get the stops."

Something will have to give Saturday, since Utah's offense has done well in the red zone this year.

Out of 10 trips into the red zone, the Utes have six touchdowns and two field goals.

Yeah, it's different

The Utes became very good at talking up their past opponents, even when some of those opponents were the worst in the Mountain West Conference and rarely gave the Utes much trouble.

The Utes are singing the same song now that they are in the Pac-12, but they mean it more when they talk about the tough level of competition.

They feel it, too, said linebacker Chaz Walker.

"The practices have been more intense and everyone is more hyped up this year," Walker said. "The coaches are more hyped up and it just feels different, but we are looking for the same results."

Home-field advantage

The Utes are hoping Saturday's sold-out crowd gives them an advantage against the Huskies, a team they've never beaten.

"I hope the atmosphere is like Pittsburgh last year," offensive lineman John Cullen said, referring to the Utes' 27-24 win in overtime. "We're all pumped to go in there."

Asked about the atmosphere earlier in the week, Whittingham gave the Utes' student section credit for making it hard on opponents.

"They get so loud on third downs, last year I think it was 51 false starts teams had. The noise level they generate is great."

Party time

There are several celebrations planned for the first Pac-12 game in Rice-Eccles Stadium, starting with some pregame fireworks during the team introductions. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott will be on hand to accept a commemorative game ball, and approximately 1,000 replicas of Rice-Eccles Stadium will be handed out randomly throughout the game.

lwodraska@sltrib.com