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The No. 20 Utah Utes kicked off their MWC farewell tour with a 38-10 win over UNLV. It's the third straight season the Utes have won their conference opener and sixth time in the last eight seasons.
The Utes got touchdowns from their steady seniors Eddie Wide and Jereme Brooks while the defense held UNLV to just a field goal in three trips inside the red zone.
Here are a few things that stood out in the 28-point victory:
Cain is more than able
For most college football teams losing your starting quarterback to injury is a recipe for disaster. Not for the Utes on Saturday. Senior Terrance Cain was ready when his number was called and he turned in an outstanding performance while filling in for Jordan Wynn. He was 13-20 for 207 yards and two touchdowns but the most important stat was no turnovers. Cain could have whined and sulked after getting benched last year Instead he has been a "team guy" and kept a positive attitude as a backup quarterback.
Shaky is no longer shaky
Shaky Smithson was so bad against Pittsburgh you had to wonder if he would have the mental toughness to put that behind him and become effective again. He responded in a big way with a 55 yard touchdown reception and a 77 yard punt return for a touchdown that broke the game open in the 3rd quarter. No one can question his mental toughness now and his ability to overcome adversity shouldn't surprise anyone who knows his life story.
Gorillas in the midst
It was not a perfect performance by the Utes defense but they did hold the Rebel offense to just three points and no touchdowns. The Rebels only touchdown of the game came on the return of a blocked punt. More impressive is the performance of the defensive line. In his post-game interview Kyle Whittingham referred to his D-line as 300-pound gorillas. They have been as good as advertised this season holding Pittsburgh's Heisman trophy candidate Dion Lewis to 75 yards last week then holding UNLV running back C.J. Cox to just 31 yards. They were also strong in the red zone stopping three Rebel drives short of the end zone.
Utes are streaking
Utah made history Saturday. The win over UNLV was their 19th consecutive home win breaking the Mountain West Conference record previously held by BYU. The streak is also the third longest active home winning streak in the country. Only Oklahoma (32) and Boise State (26) have a longer streak. With San Jose State and Colorado State next up on the home schedule, there is no reason they shouldn't top 20 before TCU comes to Rice-Eccles Stadium on November 6th. The Utes have also never lost to UNLV in Salt Lake City (8-0).
Sloppy play still an issue
While the Utes will enjoy a 28 point win at home there is plenty of issues that are cause for concern. First and foremost is the punt game. For the second straight week a punt was blocked. This time it led to a touchdown. After the game Kyle referred to it as "our weakest link" and called it "unacceptable". The Utes also committed 7 penalties that cost them 70 yards along with a fumble. They can get away with these miscues against teams like UNLV but they can't afford these kinds of errors when the schedule gets tough in 6 weeks. I don't think they want to wait that long to get things ironed out.