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No. 22 Utah hosts UNLV

No. 22 Utah hosts UNLV

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's team is ranked for the first time in his tenure and he's fielding questions about the Utes' BCS potential.

That's quite a turnaround from a year ago, when the Utes were shocked, humbled and embarrassed in a 27-0 loss at UNLV.

"The UNLV game was definitely the low point of my coaching career. That was definitely a very bleak weekend, to say the least," Whittingham said.

No. 22 Utah (1-0) hosts the Rebels (1-0) in a rematch on Saturday and the Utes will be trying to get the series back to their version of normal. Utah is 11-2 all-time against UNLV, winning 11 straight before the debacle last Sept. 22 -- one of only two games UNLV won all year.

The Utes had just stunned then-No. 11 UCLA 44-6 the week before and had what seemed to be a gimme in the annual meeting with the Rebels. Not this time.

Frank Summers rushed for 190 yards and two touchdowns, running over or through the hapless Utes. The spread offense UNLV coach Mike Sanford engineered as Utah's offensive coordinator in 2003 and 2004 wasn't necessary against the Utes. All the Rebels needed to do was hand the ball to Summers watch the 240-pound junior college transfer go.

"It was no outscheming. We just didn't tackle the guy," Whittingham said.

Sanford was quoted a few days later as saying the Utes looked on tape like they were afraid to tackle Summers.

The comments made it back to the Utes, who said there is enough other motivation that they aren't thinking about Sanford's comments -- not much, anyway.

"I don't think anybody's afraid. I think we know that," Utah defensive end Paul Kruger said. "When things like that are said, it's almost more humorous than anything."

Like last year, Utah is coming off a huge victory as it prepares for UNLV. The Utes opened the season with a 25-23 win at Michigan and are back in the AP poll for the first time since they were No. 4 at the end of the 2004 season. That was the year of Utah became the first BCS Buster.

Utah held Michigan to 36 yards rushing in the Wolverines' famed Big House.

The Utes play their home opener on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where they have never lost to UNLV.

"In our conference that is one of the most hostile environments to go into. That is one of the things that I liked when I coached there," Sanford said.

The success Sanford had while on Urban Meyer's staff at Utah has not repeated with UNLV. The Utes lost only twice during the two seasons, but the Rebels have managed just two wins in each of Sanford's three seasons in Vegas.

UNLV got halfway to that total last week with a 27-17 win over Utah State, which the Rebels also beat in the opener a year ago. UNLV's only other victory was against Utah.

The Utes were without quarterback Brian Johnson for the first half last year. He separated his shoulder three weeks before in the season opener and hadn't played since. Johnson made his comeback after halftime with the Utes trailing 13-0, but nothing could get the offense going.

"For whatever reason, we didn't play well enough on offense to win that day and UNLV did," said Johnson, who passed for 305 yards and a touchdown last week against Michigan. "It's a painful experience anyway you look at it. It was embarrassing to go out there and play as poorly as we did. We've got to get that corrected this week."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Doug Alden Sports Writer


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