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Colorado Springs, CO (Sports Network) - Eddie Wide scored twice on the ground as eighth-ranked Utah survived to take a 28-23 win over Air Force at Falcon Stadium.
Wide had 82 yards on 23 carries while Matt Asiata added 95 yards and a score on 26 totes for the Utes (8-0, 5-0 MWC), who face undefeated TCU next Saturday in front of their home crowd in a game that could go a long way towards determining the conference champion. Jordan Wynn went 15-for-23 with 148 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the win.
Tim Jefferson was 8-for-13 with 201 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for the Falcons (5-4, 3-3), who have dropped their last three games. Jefferson also had 67 yards on 16 carries with a score while Asher Clark had 11 carries for 53 yards.
Holding a four-point lead to start the second half, Utah gave itself some breathing room on its second touch of the third quarter. On the 12th play of the drive at the Air Force 36, Wynn lofted a bomb down the right sideline that Luke Matthews came down with for the score and a 21-10 lead with 4:25 left in the frame.
Brian Blechen picked off Jefferson to give Utah the ball back deep in Air Force territory, and Wide punched the ball in from a yard out for a 28-10 lead with 54 seconds left in the third. The drive featured a fake field goal that saw Joe Phillips carry the ball for seven yards on a 4th-and-4.
A pair of big plays, though, got Air Force back into the game.
Facing a 3rd-and-4 at their own 41, the Falcons made it a 28-17 game as Jefferson ran the ball around the left end and down the sideline for a 59-yard score with 11:34 left in the game.
After forcing Utah to punt, the Falcons again struck quick as on the first play Jefferson found Kyle Halderman wide open down the left sideline on a 49- yard score. The team went for two, but failed, and it was a 28-23 game with 10:22 left.
The Utes were held to a three-and-out, but then held the Falcons to a three- and-out and got the ball back near midfield with 7 1/2 minutes to play.
Utah got into scoring position and lined up for a 42-yard field goal, but Joe Phillips hit it off right post and the Falcons got the ball back at their 26 with 3:21 to play.
Utah, though, was able to stop Air Force on downs and get the ball back. The team had to punt with 28 seconds left, but the Falcons was unable to make anything happen.
Air Force started with the ball, but Mikel Hunter fumbled a catch and Utah recovered at its own 32.
From there, the team went on a 13-play drive that saw the team run 12 times with Wide capping the march with a one-yard run up the middle for a 7-0 lead with 6:43 left in the first.
The Falcons, though, responded with an eight-play, 80-yard drive that saw Jonathan Warzeka take a pitch out to the left on the option and race into the end zone from 11 yards out to tie the game with 2:50 left in the first.
Air Force turned to its bag of tricks and gave itself a treat when the team recovered an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. However, another fumbled reception saw Utah recover deep in its territory.
The Falcons were able to hold the Utes and got the ball back at the Utah 34. The team got into the red zone, but were only able to come away with three points on a 23-yard field goal from Erik Soderberg for a 10-7 lead with 11:44 left in the second.
The Utes, though, started their ensuing drive on their own 36 and over 12 plays they went the length of the field, with Asiata banging the ball into the end zone from a yard out on his second effort for a 14-10 lead with 6:22 left in the half.
Air Force faces an academy opponent next week as the team will play at West Point against the Cadets...Utah has won three straight and seven of the last eight against Air Force, but the Falcons still hold a 14-13 edge in the series...Halderman had three catches for 67 yards in the contest...Utah controlled the ball for over 36 minutes.
No, it wasn't pretty. But after Utah's offense couldn't put any points up in the fourth quarter, the Utes' defense stepped up and stopped the Falcons twice to keep their record unblemished.
After being gashed for two big plays from Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson, the Utes stuffed Air Force runs on third and fourth down on two consecutive drives. Then, after the ball went over to the Utes, the Utah offense bled clock, punted, and downed it at the Air Force 1, giving the Falcons a 99-yard path to victory.
Unsurprisingly, Air Force couldn't quite pull it off, gaining yardage, then seeing Jefferson tripped up for a sack on a potential Hail Mary.
This isn't the sort of win Utah will earn style points for, but it was a test of resolve that might prove worthwhile. After all, the Utes do have to play fellow BCS aspirant TCU next week, and the Horned Frogs aren't likely to sabotage their cause with five turnovers.
Does a 49-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Halderman sound like atonement? Tim Jefferson sure hopes so.
After forcing a Utah three-and-out that included a personal foul and a rare sideline interference penalty, Air Force capitalized with a one-play drive that featured that Jefferson-to-Halderman hookup and a touchdown that cut the Utah lead to 28-23 after a failed two-point conversion.
Suddenly, it doesn't seem like Utah will be running away with anything in Colorado Springs, save maybe its tail between its legs. The Utes haven't recorded a first down in the fourth quarter, and could use an extended drive and some points to either put the Falcons away or put enough distance between the two teams to not be looking at a late comeback of their own.
Suddenly, it seems like all that time Utah ran off the clock with those long drives might not have been enough to stave off a rally.
Tim Jefferson giveth, and Tim Jefferson taketh back.
The Air Force quarterback atoned for his two-interception night with a 59-yard touchdown run, cutting Utah's lead to 28-17. He'll need to add more atonement to be fully redeemed, though, because despite his efforts in leading the Falcons in passing and rushing, they still trail Utah by double digits with under a quarter to go.
If that seems like a swift game, it's because it is: between Utah's run-heavy extended drives and Air Force's option attack, the clock's been ticking almost constantly in Colorado Springs, and the Falcons have under 12 minutes on the clock to make up those 11 points.
Jefferson will need to scoreth a bit more.
Any optimism about Air Force's chances was premature and misplaced.
Another Air Force turnover — this one a Tim Jefferson interception — gave Utah the ball with just 18 yards to travel, and though it took the Utes six plays to do so, a second one-yard touchdown run for Eddie Wide gave them a 18-point lead and a 28-10 score.
If Air Force is going to win this one, the rally will have to start soon. But it seems like that the Falcons are just one turnover away from digging a hole too deep to climb out of at this point.
Stop me if you've heard this before: Utah is beating Air Force with a methodical, efficient attack.
It's been one touchdown per quarter so far for Utah, but all three of them have come on 12-play drives. This one in the third quarter spanned 91 yards, and got capped not by a one-yard run, but a 36-yard pass from Jordan Wynn to Luke Matthews.
Air Force is still outgaining Utah, but just barely (259 yards to 256 yards), and the Falcons' inability to string together long drives or avoid costly fumbles has saddled them with a double-digit deficit that seems more than daunting.
But then, Air Force came close against Oklahoma, and that was on the road. Things might be different in Colorado Springs.
After Air Force got a field goal to take a 10-7 lead when a drive stalled near the goal line, Utah came back with another balanced drive to take back the lead.
This time, Matt Asiata was the one finishing the long drive with a short run, carrying it in from one yard out to wrap up a 12-play, 64-yard foray. Utah leads 14-10 midway through the second quarter, and the pace of the game has slowed after a nutty first few minutes.
What hasn't slowed, though, is Air Force's offense. While the Utes lead on the scoreboard, the Falcons have a decided advantage on the stat sheet, outgaining them 218-134, and outpacing them both on the ground and through the air. If the Falcons can hang on to the ball, that stat discrepancy might come back to haunt Utah.
Here is a lesson in Onside Kick Capitalization 101:
That's what Air Force just did, with Joshua Freeman coughing up the ball this time. And though the end result, Utah starting a possession deep in its own territory, is more or less what would likely have come of a deep kickoff, Air Force has squandered a bit of momentum, burned a possible surprise for later in the game, and wasted two deep connections.
And that's not a recipe for knocking off as talented and experienced a team as Utah.
We could see a shootout in the thin air at Colorado Springs.
Just minutes after Utah punched in the game's first touchdown, Air Force answered with its first score. Jonathan Warzeka scampered into the end zone for an 11-yard score, and a point after knotted the game at 7-7.
This probably won't be a shootout in the traditional airing-it-out sense, if it does turn into one. The two teams have attempted a combined three passes, and one ended in a fumble.
And it's still hard to know whether Air Force's early success moving the ball will last. Utah's defense is very good, giving up just 12.9 points per game, and hadn't given up more than six points in its last two outings.
Utah has gotten off to a good start in its toughest road test of the season so far.
Running back Eddie Wide capped a 13-play, 68-yard drive with a one-yard plunge, and the Utes are up 7-0 on Air Force in Colorado Springs.
Utah was lucky to get a chance to score first. A rare pass from Air Force went for 34 yards, but Mikel Hunter fumbled in Utah territory, and the Utes took over and went on a grinding drive that included 63 rushing yards, three third down conversions, and five first downs.
If Air Force is going to keep pace with the undefeated Utes, it will likely need to match their running game. For the team that ranks first in the country with 326.5 rushing yards per game, that might not be so hard.
SB Nation's Block U wonders what, exactly, Utah has to do to get some respect around here when it comes to the BCS:
It's another run at perfection and the scheduling snobs have returned with their tired and boring argument that Utah doesn't deserve to be anywhere in the BCS picture because they just don't play anyone.
This year, they actually do have somewhat of a case because the Utes have had a steady diet of cupcakes the last six weeks. I'll readily admit their schedule hasn't been impressive and probably doesn't compare to the first six weeks of the 2008 season. Yet I don't accept their full argument because Utah is doing more than just beating these teams. They're completely obliterating them and that is something you don't often see.
One of seven teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision still without a blemish on their record in 2010, the eighth-ranked Utah Utes try to continue their dominant play this weekend as they challenge the Air Force Falcons in Mountain West Conference action in Colorado.
Rated eighth in the most recent BCS rankings, the Utes have won all seven of their outings this season and are enjoying an eight-game win streak overall. Last weekend the team once again put all the pieces together, both on offense and defense, as they completely crushed the Colorado State Rams at home in Salt Lake City, 59-6. The Utes have scored at least 56 points in four of the last five outings and during that time held opponents to a combined 56 points.
With a mark of 4-0 in MWC action, the Utes are currently tied with fourth- ranked TCU for first place in the league standings, while Air Force now rests in fourth place at 3-2 following its most recent setback.
Last weekend the Falcons, who were once a part of the AP's Top-25 earlier in the season, were dealt their second straight loss in a 38-7 final versus the aforementioned Horned Frogs. Air Force is now just 5-3 on the season overall, although the first two setbacks of 2010 (Oklahoma and San Diego State) came by a combined five points.
Last year the Utes needed overtime to establish a 23-16 win over the academy in their annual meeting, but still the Falcons own a 14-12 edge in the series. While Air Force still holds the advantage in the series, Utah has been striking back hard in recent years with two straight wins and six in the last seven meetings. Utah has taken three in a row in Colorado Springs by an average of just four points.
"We played well against Colorado State in all three phases of the game," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said of his team's efforts last weekend. "Our offense had a lot of production and a lot of yards and points. We possessed the ball well and did a lot of good things. The defense was more of the same. We defended the run exceptionally well...It was good to get back home - that was our only home game in October - and it was good to get a win."
To say that the Utes played well last week is an understatement, given how much they pushed Colorado State around. For the third time in the last seven years the Utes ran their record to 7-0, thanks to Jordan Wynn who threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns while being named the MWC's Co-Offensive Player of the Week. Wynn hit on 23-of-29 passes and was sacked only once, while the running game rolled up another 221 yards and four touchdowns to give Utah a final tally of 648 yards of offense, after factoring in the production of backup signal-caller Terrance Cain.
Matt Asiata was limited to just 39 yards rushing on seven attempts, but he hit the end zone twice for the Utes, while receiver DeVonte Christopher turned five catches into 111 yards and a TD.
Defensively the Utes completely man-handled the Rams in every facet of the game. They took down the opposing quarterback for five sacks and held the CSU run game to just 28 net yards. Christian Cox grabbed some of the spotlight with a sack and a fumble recovery for the group.
Surprisingly, the recovery by Cox was just one of three on the entire season for the Utes, one of the only areas that could stand to see some improvement down the stretch. In fact, when it comes to turnover margin the Utes are sixth in the Mountain West and 97th nationally with a minus-0.71 turnovers per contest. The squad doesn't have a single, standout performer on defense, yet with a team effort the Utes are still ranked first in the conference and eighth in the nation with 3.14 sacks per game. The same goes for tackles for loss as the squad posts 7.29 per outing to stand first in the MWC and 17th in the country this week.
Even though he has missed some action in 2010, Wynn is evolving into one of the more dominant passers in the conference with his nearly 70 percent completion rate and 12 TDs, against just five interceptions. Cain has also played extremely well, to the point where it almost seems ridiculous not to give him some snaps every time out, having completed a staggering 76.6 percent of his attempts for six TDs and no picks. Put it all together and the Utes have the third-best scoring offense in the country at this stage with 47.7 ppg.
As for the Falcons, the top running team in the nation with 326.5 ypg, they were held to less than 200 yards on the ground by the Horned Frogs last week and again they are facing off against a tough front line in the Utes this weekend. The triple option took some hits from TCU, generating just 184 yards, while quarterback Tim Jefferson completed a mere three passes as the academy continued to focus its efforts on the ground.
Jefferson, who threw for 47 yards, was second on the team in rushing with 39 yards and had the lone touchdown of the meeting for the Falcons on a 16-yard run in the first quarter. While the Air Force offense was being shut down, the defense was being run over by the Frogs who put up 377 yards and scored four times on 51 rushing attempts. The pass defense was somewhat better, giving up 185 yards and a score, but that's only because TCU found a weakness in the AF run defense and insisted on exploiting it over and over again.
Except for the season opener against Northwestern State, Air Force has permitted at least 113 yards on the ground in every contest and in the last four games the opposition has reached no less than 200 ypg via the run. Needless to say, shoring up the front line and digging deep in the trenches is something the Falcons will have to pursue if they want to improve their run defense which is currently seventh in the conference and 110th in the nation with 205.8 ypg allowed.
Obviously the passing attack isn't going to all of a sudden appear for the academy, but given the right situation Jefferson has shown that he can pick his spots and find receivers down the field, but holding onto the ball and pounding it over and over again on the ground will not only instill some confidence in the Falcons, it will also keep the ball out of the hands of the Utes who can hurt teams in so many different ways.
"The triple option attack is a big departure from what we see every week," coach Whittingham says of matching up against Air Force. "We spend time in the spring and on the bye week on it, so we got a head start. We have to play assignment football. Any breakdowns and you are looking at a potential big play. We have to match their toughness and discipline to defend it."
TCU drew up the blueprint on how to stop the Falcons last week, so expect Utah to use the same approach as the visitors cruise to the victory and remain undefeated.
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