Nov. 17, 2003
SALT LAKE CITY -
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> Utah (8-2, 5-1 MWC) has earned at least a share of the Mountain West Conference championship. A win over Brigham Young (4-7, 3-3 MWC) this Saturday in Provo, Utah, would give Utah its first outright conference championship since 1957.
> Game time for the Utah-BYU game is 1:00 p.m. MT in LaVell Edwards Stadium.
> If Utah beats BYU this week, the Utes will automatically earn the conference's berth in the AXA Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., where the MWC champion plays the champion of Conference USA on Dec. 31.
> Head Coach Urban Meyer's 8-2 mark in his first year at Utah is tied for the best debut ever by a Ute coach. Jim Fassel went 8-4 in his first season in 1985.
IN CASE OF A TIE
In the event of a first-place tie between Utah and New Mexico (7-4, 4-2 MWC) in the MWC's final standings, both teams will be recognized as co-MWC champions. A tie-breaking formula is in place solely for the purpose of determining bowl destinations. However, the AXA Liberty Bowl is not contractually bound to use the conference's tie-breaking procedure to select its team. The MWC's primary tie-breaker is head-to-head competition. New Mexico handed Utah its only league loss.
The conference champion automatically receives an invitation to the AXA Liberty Bowl, which pits the conference champions from the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA against each other. The Liberty Bowl is on Wednesday, Dec. 31 at 2:30 p.m. (CST) in Memphis, Tenn. It will be televised by ESPN. The Las Vegas Bowl will take the second choice of MWC teams for a pairing with the fifth choice from the Pac-10. Las Vegas Bowl XII will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 24 at 4:30 p.m. (PST) in Las Vegas. It will be televised by ESPN. The MWC will send its third choice to the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl, where it will play a team from the Big East. That bowl will be played on Wednesday, Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. (PST) in San Francisco and will be televised by ESPN2.
UTAH'S CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
Utah is guaranteed of a share of the conference championship for just the fourth time since 1964. Titles the Utes tied for during that time were in 1964 (WAC), 1995 (WAC) and 1999 (MWC). The Utes have not won an outright conference championship since 1957, when they played in the Skyline Conference.
If Utah beats BYU, it will give Utah six conference wins for just the sixth time in its 94 years of conference affiliation (Utah is in its 111th season of football). Seasons in which Utah won six conference games: 1929 (6-0 Rocky Mountain Conference), 1947 (6-0 Big Seven), 1994 (6-2 WAC), 1995 (6-2 WAC) and 1996 (6-2 WAC).
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Just about everything is different from last season when Utah lost six straight games and finished 5-6 overall and fifth in the MWC, ironically where the 2003 Utes were picked to finish in the preseason media/coaches' poll. This year's Utes are 8-2 with one regular season game remaining and are in first place in the MWC. Most of the change has come on offense, where the 2003 Utes have shown across-the-board improvement using first-year head coach Urban Meyer's
spread offense. This week Utah is leading the MWC and ranks 25th in the nation in scoring average (32.4), a huge improvement over last year's club that finished dead last in the MWC in scoring, averaging 22.6 ppg. Some other notable comparisons (2003 numbers first): total offense 404.6-372.2; red zone scoring success 86%-68%; red zone touchdown scoring 68%-49%; fourth quarter points 106-57.
is 8-2 at Utah and 25-8 in his third year as a head coach. He is 7-1 against BCS teams with his only loss a 28-26 setback to Texas A&M. Widely considered one of the up-and-comers in the college coaching ranks, Meyer, 39, was hired by Utah on Dec. 12, 2002 after leading Bowling Green to a two-year record of 17-6. Under Meyer, BGSU cracked the AP Top 20 after starting the 2002 season with eight straight wins. Named the Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year as a first-year head coach in 2001, Meyer went 8-3 and 9-3 in his two years at BG. His previous coaching stops included assistantships at Ohio State (graduate assistant), Illinois State, Colorado State and Notre Dame. Meyer is 0-0 against BYU.
A gigantic second half sent Utah blasting past Wyoming, 47-17 in the final home game of the season and assured the Utes of at least a share of the conference title. Tied 17-17 at halftime, Utah simply manhandled the Cowboys for the final two periods. Alex Smith
assisted in five touchdowns, passing for two and rushing for three in perhaps his best game yet as a Ute. Smith completed 17-26 passes for 296 yards and rushed 15 times for 76 yards. When starting running back Mike Liti
exited with a first-quarter injury, tight end Ben Moa
took over and rushed for a career-high 125 yards. Ute receivers Steve Savoy (96 yards), Paris Warren
(80 yards) and Travis LaTendresse
(70 yards) also had big games. After shredding Utah's defense for 242 first-half passing yards, Wyoming managed just 30 passing yards in the second half. The Pokes finished with 332 total yards, including a measly 70 in the second half, when they failed to cross midfield until the game's last series. Freshman corner Eric Weddle
had a career-high 10 tackles, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.
SMITH IS MWC PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Utah sophomore quarterback Alex Smith
, who scored or passed for five touchdowns in Utah's 47-17 win over Wyoming last week, has been named MWC co-Offensive Player of the Week. It is the third such award for Smith, who also won it on Oct. 6 and Oct. 13. Smith completed 17 of 26 passes (65%) for 296 yards and 2 touchdowns (no interceptions) against the Cowboys. He also rushed 15 times for 76 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and 3 touchdowns. He had 372 yards of total offense.
Utah has won 3 straight road games and has not lost on the road since a 28-26 loss to Texas A&M on Sept. 6 ... Utah set a new school attendance record by averaging 41,478 spectators per game this fall, easily surpassing the old mark of 39,249 set in 1999 ... The winner of Saturday's Utah-BYU game will claim the Beehive Boot, which goes to the annual winner of the Utah-BYU-Utah State rivalry. Utah beat Utah State this year, but BYU and USU did not play each other ... Utah has appeared in the national rankings once this year: The Utes were ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press poll and No. 23 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll on Oct. 19 before a loss to New Mexico on Oct. 25 dropped them out. Utah received votes in both polls this week, ranking No. 26 in the coaches poll and No. 29 in the AP poll ... Utah's all-time record is 544-403-31. The Utes are 340-168-16 at home, 22-11 in Rice-Eccles Stadium (1998-on), 193-221-13 in road games and 11-14-2 in games played at neutral sites.
The Utes' 8-2 record is even more amazing when the personnel losses they have suffered are considered. They are playing without two all-conference players, a former NCAA rushing leader, a starting offensive lineman and a starting linebacker. Utah also lost its starting quarterback in the second game for four weeks. Two-time first-team all-conference defensive end Jason Kaufusi
has missed the entire season with a shoulder injury. Second-team all-conference running back Brandon Warfield
, a preseason all-conference pick and the league's leading rusher through the first seven games of 2003, has missed most of the last three games with a knee injury. He is questionable for this week. All-America candidate Marty Johnson
was the NCAA's rushing leader (202.5 ypg) for the first two games of 2002 before a season-ending knee injury. He has missed the entire 2003 season due to an injury and a suspension. Starting offensive guard Jesse Boone
has missed all but the first three games with a foot injury. Starting linebacker Zach Tune
(suspension) is gone for the season. Utah also lost (then) starting quarterback Brett Elliott
for a month to a broken wrist and has played games without starting offensive guard Chris Kemoeatu
(injury and suspension), leading receiver Paris Warren
(suspension), starting defensive end Marquess Ledbetter
(injury) and starting PAT/field goal kicker Bryan Borreson
(injury). Utah will play without starting running back Mike Liti
this week. Liti broke his collarbone in the first quarter of last week's game against Wyoming and the injury could take up to six weeks to heal.
BY THE NUMBERS
Utah has a 33:08-26:52 advantage in time of possession ... Utah has out-scored its opponents in every quarter this year ... Utah's best offensive quarter is the fourth (106 points) and its worst is the first (48 points) ... The top scoring opponent quarter is the second (77 points). Utah's defense is best in the first quarter, allowing just 27 points.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR?
Key behind Utah's first-place conference position has been the spectacular play of sophomore quarterback Alex Smith
. Smith's numbers are certainly worthy of MWC Offensive Player of the Year honors. The first-year starter leads the league in pass efficiency (162.43), ranks second in total offense (262.8) and is third in passing yards per game (223.3). He leads the league and is No. 7 in pass efficiency this week. Smith is also Utah's second-leading rusher with 113 carries for 335 yards and has rushed for 70 or more yards in four games. He has passed for 15 touchdowns and run for 5 scores. Smith has thrown just one interception in his last 229 attempts and has been picked just once in 228 attempts this year. He has been named MWC Offensive Player of the Week three times this year.
Defensive back Eric Weddle
and wide receiver Steve Savoy will make a strong pitch MWC Defensive and Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Weddle, a starting cornerback, has 51 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, 4 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. Starting receiver Savoy has 37 catches for 612 yards and 7 touchdowns. He is averaging a team-best 16.5 yards per catch and has become known for his ability to make tough catches under pressure. Savoy is averaging 61.2 receiving yards per game.
THE UTE ZONE
Utah has scored on its last 25 trips inside the red zone and is scoring 86% of the time it crosses inside the 20-yard line. The Utes have scored 34 touchdowns and 9 field goals in 50 red zone attempts. Opponents have crossed into the red zone 34 times, scoring on 29 of those occasions (20 touchdowns, 9 field goals).
Several Utes have found their way into the record books this year.
* Receiver Paris Warren's
67 receptions is tied for second most in a single season by a Ute. He is tied with Loren Richey (67 in 1986). The school record is 73, shared by Richey (1985) and Dennis Smith
* Quarterback Alex Smith's
67.5 completion percentage is the second-best single season mark in school history, just a percentage point shy of Lee Grosscup's school record (68.6% in 1957). Smith should also finish the year ranked No. 2 all-time in pass efficiency. His 162.43 mark trails Grosscup's 1957 record (175.50). Smith has had six straight 200-yard passing games. If he matches that effort against BYU, he'll tie for the fifth-most 200-yard games in a season by a Ute QB.
* Running back Brandon Warfield
is averaging a school-record 103.18 yards per game for his career (17 games so far). With two games left, he has a narrow lead over Mike Anderson
(102.38 from 1998-99).
* Warfield's 104.4 yard per game rushing average this season currently ranks fifth all-time at the U.
* Warfield's 10 touchdowns this year is tied for fourth in school history. The school single-season record is 13, held by Del Rodgers (1981) and Mark Stevens (1984).
* Warfield has seven career 100-yard games, tied for fifth at Utah.
* Linebacker Corey Dodds
has recovered 4 fumbles this season, which is tied for the third-best single-season total in school history.
* Freshman receiver Steve Savoy's 7 touchdown catches currently is tied for sixth best in a single season at Utah.
* Bo Nagahi
is moving up the career charts in kickoff returns. His 38 career returns is tied for seventh. His 923 career kick return yards is eighth best. Utah's 282 kickoff return yards against New Mexico, which included 193 yards from Nagahi and an 89-yard return by Morgan Scalley
, was a Utah and MWC record.
* Kicker Bryan Borreson
has 20 career field goals, sixth most all-time. His 33 career field goal attempts ranks seventh.
In one of the most heated rivalries in college athletics, it may come as no surprise that Utah and BYU can't even agree on their series record. Historians from both schools have documented the record as 49-31-4, with Utah leading. That mark, which is the one Utah uses, includes six games (3 in 1896, 2 in 1897 and 1 in 1898) when BYU was known as the BY Academy. The two schools split those decisions 3-3. Brigham Young does not count those six games in its series record with Utah and, therefore, its record book lists Utah with a 46-28-4 series lead. Regardless, it is the second-longest series in Utah football history, trailing only the Utah-Utah State series in games played. Utah has won six of the last 10 games, including a 13-6 verdict over the Cougars in Salt Lake City last year. The series is all tied up 15-15-1 in Provo.
UTAH VS. THE MWC
Utah's all-time record against current MWC teams is 197-122-10. Here's how Utah has fared against its MWC rivals: Air Force 7-13, Brigham Young 49-31-4, Colorado State 49-21-2, New Mexico 28-15-2, San Diego State 11-11-1, UNLV 8-1 and Wyoming 45-30-1.
THIS GAME LAST YEAR
rushed for a career-high 194 yards and the game's only touchdown and Utah's defense was nearly impenetrable in a 13-6 Utah victory. The Cougars were held to negative 2 rushing yards for the game. Five Utes had sacks, including 2 by Lewis Powell
. Bryan Borreson
made field goals of 31 and 22 yards, the second the game winner with 7:09 remaining in the fourth.
Utah and BYU have not played any common non-conference foes this year. Against MWC foes, Utah is 5-1, beating Colorado State (28-21), San Diego State (27-6), Air Force (45-43) and Wyoming (47-17) and losing to New Mexico (47-35). Brigham Young is 3-3 vs. MWC schools, beating New Mexico (10-7), San Diego State (44-36) and UNLV (27-20) and losing to Air Force (24-10), Colorado State (58-13) and Wyoming (13-10).
Utah's short-handed running back position took another hit last week when freshman Mike Liti
broke his collarbone in the first quarter against Wyoming. Liti is expected to be out six weeks, with a possibility of returning for postseason play. He had replaced all-conference starter Brandon Warfield
, who injured his knee in the first quarter of the New Mexico game on Oct. 25. On a bright note, Warfield, who has missed the past two games, could return to the lineup this week. Rather than burn the redshirt seasons of freshmen Joe Jackson and Kyle Brady
, the Ute coaches have turned to tight end Ben Moa
at running back. Moa rushed for a career-high 125 yards against Wyoming after Liti went down.