Utah (8-3, 5-2) defeated New Mexico (7-4, 4-3) 28-10 Saturday afternoon to extend the Utes winning streak to 7 games.
Both teams started the game with a methodical approach, feeling out what the opposition was going to do and looking for weaknesses to exploit as the game progressed. New Mexico had ball control issues all game and the first play from scrimmage was a sign of things to come. Quarterback Donovan Porterie found running back Rodney Ferguson all by himself along the sideline for a 50 yard catch and run. Utah safety Robert Johnson ran Ferguson down from behind and punched the ball loose. Defensive lineman Gabe Long hustled down field and recovered the fumble. Despite coming very early, the first of four Lobos fumbles set the mood of the game.
Neither team did much on offense in the first quarter, although the Utes did leave points on the field by not converting on a 4th down attempt inside the Lobos 30 yard line. The Utes broke through early in the second quarter when Darrell Mack punched the ball in from the one yard line. The drive included a pair of long passes from quarterback Brian Johnson and a pair of New Mexico penalties. Utah took control of the game as the first half came to a close by capping a 12 play, 74 yard drive with a 7 yard touchdown pass by Jereme Brooks to Bradon Godfrey. Brooks took an end-around pitch, pulled up and threw a perfect strike to Godfrey in the corner of the endzone.
Recent history shows that no halftime lead is safe for the Utes against the Lobos as New Mexico has come back from significant halftime deficits to beat the Utes in the past. Last year as the Lobos came back after trailing by as many as 21 points. The worst fears of Ute fans appeared to be coming true as the second half opened with miscommunication between Brian Johnson and Derrek Richards that resulted in an intercepted pass and the Lobos starting their drive on the Utes 11 yard line. New Mexico scored four plays later to cut the Utes lead in half. Utah gave the Lobos the ball back after just 5 plays, and the Lobos drove 69 yards in 18 plays before stalling at the Utes 5 yard line. The ensuing field goal gave the Lobos momentum, confidence, and put them within striking distance of driving a dagger into the hearts of the 43,788 in attendance. Then the Lobos fundamentals fell apart.
On the very next drive, the Utes went 3 and out. Louie Sakoda did not get off the greatest of punts and it appeared New Mexico would be set with great field position and all the momentum in the world. Return man Ian Clark misjudged the punt and could not hold onto the football and Kepa Gaison recovered the muffed punt for the Utes at the Lobos 39 yard line, the first of two consecutive Lobos turnovers off of muffed punts. After a personal foul against New Mexico was marched off, Utah had the ball on the 24 yard line and scored 3 plays later on a 7 yard pass from Johnson to Richards with 49 seconds to go in the 3rd quarter. The tension in the stadium lifted in an almost audible sigh of relief from the fans.
Utah's defense stiffened up and shut down the Lobos in the 4th quarter while the offense did a decent job of working the clock. Fittingly, Utah's defense drove the final nail in the Lobos coffin with just under seven minutes to play. Porterie dropped back to pass, but didn't see Paul Kruger come free from his blind side. Kruger hit Porterie, forcing a fumble. Koa Misi scooped up the ball and rumbled the final 28 yards untouched to cap all scoring.
Utah's final regular season game will be the annual showdown with rival BYU in Provo. Kickoff is set for noon at Lavell Edwards Stadium. As is custom for the rivalry game, Utah's practices for the week will be closed to the public and the media. With their 8th win of the season, Utah is virtually assured of meeting up with the Naval Academy in the Poinsettia Bowl, the first bowl game of the postseason.
Offense: Receiver Bradon Godfrey. Tough choice with a balanced but not spectacular effort from the unit. Godfrey led all wideouts with 6 receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown.
Defense: Cornerbacks Brice McCain and Sean Smith. Another difficult decision because the entire unit played extremely well and no one player really stood out. Smith and McCain each broke up four passes while helping to hold the best pair of receivers in the conference to just 8 catches and 87 yards. Marcus Smith and Travis Brown entered the game averaging 13 receptions and 168 yards per contest between them.