The last time the Utah Utes traveled to Las Vegas to take on the Rebels they were handed one of their most embarrassing losses in their programs history. A 27-0 beat down that came right after their major 44-6 upset over 11th ranked UCLA in the 2007 season. Following that loss Kyle Whittingham had gone on the hot seat and it was looking like all the progress that Utah had built under Urban Meyer had been lost.
Whittingham and the Utes rebounded about as good as they could. They went 8-1 the remainder of the 2007 season with their only loss to BYU. The following season, the Utes were perfect going 13-0 in 2008. That UNLV game was a major turning point for the Utes says Whittingham:
Since that game, we have gone 25-2. That was a defining moment for us. It was really a wake up call for a lot of the guys on the team - their mindset has to be right each and every week. It was obvious when the game started that we were flat, and it was an eye-opener for a lot of guys. A lot of our current team was at or in that game and hopefully we'll continue to take the approach we have and be ready to play each week.
The (4-1) Utes are coming off a comeback win over the Colorado State Rams in which they won 24-17. Terrance Cain reminded many Ute fans of their former quarterback Brian Johnson in his nearly perfect second half comeback. Robert Johnson earned Mountain West Player of The Week honors with his 3 interceptions. With the win the Utes moved back into the top 25 with a #24 ranking in the AP Poll.
UNLV is trying to turn around their disappointing 2-4 start. The Rebels are coming off of a 59-21 beat down from BYU. The UNLV defense could not stop BYU allowing 611 yards of total offense. In the last two games the UNLV defense has allowed 1384 yards of total offense. They will no chance of beating Utah if their defense continues with this trend.
UNLV likes to throw the ball down field to their big receivers. Ryan Wolfe leads the Rebels with 489 receiving yards on the season. Phillip Payne is another big receiver who has 405 yards on the season for 3 touchdowns. Quarterback Omar Clayton will likely test Utah's secondary that has had a few problems this season. Robert Johnson could have another huge game for the Utes if they throw the ball his way.
Don't expect the Utes to overlook the Rebels. Many of the players currently on the team were on the 2007 team and remember that embarrassing loss. Despite UNLV's poor record, they are a talented team and nearly beat Oregon State. Lya Wodraska in her blog this morning said that the Utes practice today was extremely intense. The team is using the 2007 game as motivation. The Utes are 17 point favorites in this game.
Sausan Shakerin is expected to play in this game after his injury in the San Jose State game. Shaky Smithson is also expected to play. There may be more Ute fans than Rebel fans at the game. Zack Lassiter on his Twitter page that the University of Utah has already sold over 2,000 tickets with many Ute fans buying from UNLV as well. The University of Utah is out for fall break this week and many students are making the trip down to Las Vegas for the game.
You can catch the game at 8:00 pm MT on the MTN.