Utah: QB Smith, WR Warren and safety Scalley have helped Utes reach new heights
You don't win 14 straight games, climb higher than ever in the national rankings and threaten to bust into the Bowl Championship Series without a few talented playmakers.
And Utah is packed with them.
Yet while the No. 5 Utes enter their showdown with rival Brigham Young at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday with a roster full of players who have made a spectacular difference in their undefeated season, there are a few who have stood out as difference-makers just a little more than the others.
Without them, the Utes might never have come this far:
l Alex Smith, Quarterback
What else can you say?
The junior has been the engine that drives the Utah offense, running and passing with equal efficiency and making seemingly nothing but the right decisions game after game after game.
The Utes are 19-1 with him as the starter, and he has become more effective as the season has progressed, having thrown 19 touchdown passes in his last five games to strengthen his case as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
"I play my best when I just take what's given," he said.
Coach Urban Meyer has said the Utes would not be able to run their complete offense, had Smith not dedicated himself in the offseason to getting bigger and stronger and to understanding every nuance of the system.
Now, against the Cougars, he can probably expect to see blitzes from every angle - though he managed a decent game against the New Mexico version of the BYU defense nearly two months ago.
"All the stops are coming out in this game," he said.
The Utes beat the Lobos 28-7, and Smith completed half his 28 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown. Since then, he has been absolutely on fire, completing 70.4 percent of his passes for 1,321 yards, one interception and those 19 touchdowns.
He also has run for 529 yards - second-best on the team - and nine touchdowns.
"He's as good as we expected him to be," Colorado State's Sonny Lubick said two weeks ago.
l Paris Warren, Receiver
A quick glance at the statistics suggests that the senior is perhaps not having quite as good a season as he did last year, when he caught a school-record 76 passes.
But that's not the case.
For starters, Warren is on pace to come close to his record, especially considering he has caught 24 passes in the last three games - and he has done that without fielding nearly as many shovel passes as he did a year ago, because the Utes now are so much better equipped to handle that with other players.
Instead, Warren has developed into a team leader and more of a classic inside receiver, catching balls underneath zone defenses when the Utes need yards the most and opening up deeper routes for teammate Steve Savoy.
"That's the beauty," Meyer said. "You have them a lot of times on separate ends. . . . If teams decide to single us up, it usually goes to Steve. If teams decide to drop into [zone] coverage, usually it goes to Paris."
Warren leads the Utes with 57 catches, though Savoy is only two behind.
The two have combined for 1,627 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns, and lead a receiving corps that has grown into a reputation - earned at Meyer's insistence - for being great blockers. And that makes a difference not only on pass plays but also runs to the outside, when a key block can earn extra yardage.
"As long as we win, both of us are happy," Warren said. "We're just doing everything."
l Morgan Scalley, Safety
Talk about a playmaker.
Though he began his college career without a definitive position, the senior has developed into arguably the most valuable member of the defense, ranking among the team leaders in tackles, tying for the national lead with six interceptions - five in the past four games - and recovering two fumbles, returning one for a game-breaking touchdown at Colorado State.
Oh, and he returns kicks, too.
"The weight coach said, 'You know, Morgan Scalley . . . not one time has he given anything less than 100-point-oh-oh-oh percent.' " Meyer said. "How many people can say that?"
Scalley is an unquestioned leader of the defense, along with defensive lineman Sione Pouha, and known for his ability to keep the team focused but not uptight.
"He's our class clown," middle linebacker Tommy Hackenbruck said. "But he's also our level-headed leader. . . . Everybody on the team looks up to him. He's not the biggest player on the field, but he's one of the hardest hitters on the defense."
While he has been part of some of the biggest plays of the season - the kick return for a touchdown against UNLV, the fumble return against CSU and all of those picks - Scalley also joins Smith as a two-time academic all-district player who already has earned an undergraduate degree and is working on a master's.
Chris Kemoeatu isn't exactly the face of the Utah football program. But the offensive guard is a big factor in the Utes' unprecedented success this year. The three-year starter anchors the offensive line.
l UTAH NOTES: Utes prepare for BYU's "unorthodox" defense, known to blitz opponents relentlessly.
Comp Att Yards TD Int 169 256 2,440 27 2
Tackles Sacks Int Recovery TD 46 2.5 6 2 1
Rec Yards Avg Yds/game TD 57 783 13.7 78.3 10