From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: For the fourth time in Mountain West Conference history, the Utah Utes are off to a 3-0 start to begin a season and now the squad tries to make it four in a row as the 13th-ranked team in the nation hosts the San Jose State Spartans in non-conference play at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
Utah, which played in BCS bowl games following the regular seasons in both 2004 and 2008 when it also began 3-0, had a bit of a scare against 15th-ranked Pittsburgh in the opener but managed to pull out that meeting by a final of 27-24 in overtime. Already the Utes are at the top of the MWC standings thanks to convincing wins over both UNLV (38-10) at home and New Mexico (56-14) in their first road game of 2010 last weekend.
With the easy win last week in Albuquerque, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham moved to 51-17 in his six-year career in Salt Lake City, a far cry from SJSU head man Mike MacIntyre who is just 1-2 since taking over the Spartans. San Jose State, which has fallen in nine consecutive road tests and has not won a regular-season, non-conference road bout since topping Illinois back in 2002,
The Spartans were set up to fail right out of the gate this year, scheduled to play both top-ranked Alabama and Wisconsin on the road. The meeting with the Crimson Tide pretty much went as predicted (48-3), while the battle with the Badgers was more respectable, 27-11. The team's first home date of the season had the Spartans clashing with Southern Utah and coming up with a 16-11 victory last weekend, thanks to a late touchdown by the hosts. Not only was it the first win for coach MacIntyre, it also marked the first time since 2003 that the Spartans were able to keep an opponent from reaching the end zone.
Utah picked up a 24-14 win in last year's meeting with SJSU and now owns a 5-1 edge in the all-time series.
"It wasn't pretty but we did what this team can always do which is never say die, and never give in," said coach MacIntyre after the triumph versus SUU. "I couldn't be more proud of this group of young men. We made some mistakes out there that we will have to work on and get better at, but the way this team fought back tonight was impressive."
SJSU's offense converted a mere 3-of-12 on third down and put up just 250 yards of total offense against Southern Utah, but thanks to a six-yard TD run by Lamon Muldrow with 1:10 remaining in the fourth quarter it was good enough for the win. Muldrow (27 yards) and Brandon Rutley (47 yards and a TD) tried to give the Spartans a presence in the running game but for the most part it staggered. Quarterback Jordan La Secla converted 24-of-35 passes for 193 yards and, most importantly, did not suffer an interception.
"We got after the quarterback. We blitzed him, ran line stunts, and never gave a up a deep ball," coach MacIntyre said of the team's defensive effort. "(Receiver Tysson) Poots makes big plays all the time and we were right there with him tonight. We kept hitting the quarterback, and while I hated to see him go down, I loved the pressure they put on him tonight."
SJSU's defense held the visitors to only 4-of-16 on third down and stopped the opposition on all three opportunities on fourth down as well. Travis Johnson stepped up with 1.5 sacks and Ronnie Yell posted four pass breakups to make things interesting for a squad that is eighth in the WAC and 97th in the country this week with 260 ypg allowed through the air. In terms of total defense, the Spartans are giving up 442.7 ypg and that leaves them 101st in the nation entering play.
Unfortunately, the offense hasn't looked all that much better, but considering the first two opponents of the season no one can really blame the Spartans. Having to play from behind against the likes of Alabama and Wisconsin, it is tough to get down on SJSU even though the squad is averaging a mere 67 ypg on the ground to rank 115th in the country.
"A lot of positives came out of Saturday's game," said coach Whittingham during his weekly press conference. "We were very effective throwing the ball, we ran the ball well, and we played the run and the throw well. The special teams had a complete performance for the first time this year. A big negative was that we put the ball on the ground four times and lost three of those. We've got to do a better job with ball security and get that corrected."
Whittingham was extremely pleased with the play of quarterback Terrance Cain who converted all but three of his 23 pass attempts, leading to 248 yards and three touchdowns. Cain also added a touchdown on the ground for the Utes as they completely crushed New Mexico on the road. Matt Asiata continued to show his versatility with nine carries for 32 yards and a score, while also catching five passes for an additional 54 yards.
Whittingham also recognized the play of two of the lesser-known performers on his squad who had huge games.
"Congratulations to Lamar Chapman, who won the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Week award and Shaky Smithson who was the Special Teams Player of the Week. A great job by those guys."
In the case of Chapman, he registered a team-high eight tackles, seven of which were solo, made two behind the line of scrimmage and logged a sack. Smithson, who began the season shaky with a couple of fumbles, returned four punts for 140 yards, one of those going 73 yards to the end zone versus New Mexico. With back-to-back games with a punt return for a touchdown, Smithson is now one of five players in MWC history to have two returns for scores in a single season. Smithson now has plenty of time and opportunity to shoot for the league record of three in a single season, set by former Ute Steve Smith back in 1999.
Thanks to the efforts of the entire defense, along with Cain and Smithson, the Utes are now 19th in the country and third in the conference in scoring with 40.3 ppg. The scoring defense for the group is even more impressive, allowing just 16.0 ppg to rank second in the MWC and tied for 24th in the nation entering play this week. With Cain able to make plays with his feet, it shouldn't come as a surprise to find out that Utah is tied for second in the nation in sacks allowed with just one over the first three games of the season.