LAS VEGAS -- Saturday's contest between UNLV and the University of Utah features two teams heading in two different directions.
The No. 24 ranked Utes (4-1, 1-0 MWC) has jumped back into the Top 25 after escaping Fort Collins with a come-from-behind win against Colorado State. The Rebels (2-4, 0-2) have lost four of their last five games. The lone victory in that stretch being a one-point win against Hawaii.
In their last two games, the Rebels were outscored 122-49.
"We have had two very difficult games in a row," Head Coach Mike Sanford admitted during his weekly teleconference. "Give credit to BYU. They played very well. They played almost the perfect game and they're also a very good football team."
The Cougars dominated the Rebels on both sides of the ball in their 59-21 victory in Las Vegas, but Sanford won't give them all the credit. He believes bad decision-making cost his team chances to stay in the ballgame.
"I think we got a little bit too greedy at times and tried to go downfield a little too much," Sanford said. "I think what you've got to do is just take what you can get against (BYU) and we got a little impatient and I think that ended up hurting us."
But those types of mistakes fall on the coaching staff and with the losses mounting, an inept defense and an inconsistent offense, Sanford is officially on the hot seat. Local writers are calling for his job as fans have just about given up hope.
But much of that talk and frustration can simply go away with a win over Sanford's former team this Saturday. Sanford was Utah's offensive coordinator from 2003-04 under Urban Meyer. During that time current Ute Head Coach Kyle Whittingham was the team's defensive coordinator.
"They are a very good football team and very deserving of their ranking in the Top 25. We've got our work cut out for us and we've got to bring everything we've got Saturday night."
Utah has averaged 40 points a game in his 14-game history against UNLV, compiling a 12-2 record. The last loss came in 2007, which served as a springboard for the Utes, who went on to win seven straight and 25 of their next 27 games. The Utes didn't look sharp for almost three quarters against the Rams on Saturday, but some bad decision making on Colorado State's part and an opportunistic Ute defense quickly shifted momentum and led to 21 unanswered Utah points. Safety Robert Johnson intercepted three passes and quarterback Terrance Cain came alive in the fourth quarter throwing two touchdown passes to lead the Utes to victory.
"I thought the team showed a great deal of toughness, competitive spirit and poise, handling adversity in that situation," Whittingham said during his press conference. "They found a way to get back in the game. I give credit to our players. They continued to fight. The coaching staff also did a nice job not panicking and staying on course and finding a way to win."
Saturday, the Utes will be looking to put together a full four quarters of solid football, while the Rebels hope to avoid a third straight blowout and quiet talk about a head coaching change.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. from Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. Follow the game on KSL.com by reading the live Game Blog beginning at 7:30 p.m.