I can't recall a time where UNLV has garnered this much anticipation. Well Saturday, they did and Utah took care of business, easily dispatching the clearly overmatched Rebels 42-21.
The anticipation for this game was built around a few key developments. Of course, there was last year's embarrassingly bad 27-0 defeat in Las Vegas, but beyond that, Utah entered the game ranked, were fresh off a victory at Michigan and were playing in their first home game of the season. It's not a surprise, then, that the 3rd largest crowd in Utah football history packed the stadium and created an atmosphere generally not reserved for a opponent like the Rebels. Even so, Utah stumbled out of the gate and gave the impression -- even slight -- that maybe last season's loss was more than just a fluke.
On their first drive of the game, UNLV rolled down field with ease, using Frank Summers much like they did last year, as a catalyst for the offense. They pushed into Utah territory and Summers scored the first points of the game.
Yikes. Cue the 2007 flashback.
The Utes' first offensive series failed, as they struggled to move the ball and were forced to punt after only four plays. Utah's defense did clamp down and the Rebels saw little success on offense the rest of the night. Unfortunately for Utah, their offense still sputtered through the first quarter, but by the start of the second, they began to find their groove.
Brian Johnson got Utah on the board for the first time in the second quarter when he broke through the UNLV defense and ran for the 56-yard touchdown. However, UNLV followed it up with a touchdown of their own, by, who else, Frank Summers. The Utes did answer and tied the game at 14-14 before neither team could score prior to the half.
Though the first half was not very good for Utah, it really was the first quarter that gave the Utes issues. For whatever reason, Utah came out flat, but you've got to give them credit, they didn't tighten up and definitely didn't collapse like they did a year ago against the Rebels.
The second half was a completely different story. Utah just abused the Rebels, toying with them like any top-25 team should do. On their first offensive series of the game, the Utes worked their way down to the UNLV 32, where Brian Johnson found Freddie Brown for the easy touchdown. That opened the floodgates, as Utah would go on to score two more touchdowns in the third quarter for a total of 21 points. UNLV flopped offensively, failing to reach the end zone at all in that quarter.
The fourth was much more nominal, as the Utes really didn't need to run up the score and only managed another touchdown before really packing it in. UNLV did have a decent drive that spanned over seven minutes and resulted in the Rebels only second half touchdown. But the game was far over by that point and once Utah got the ball back, they worked the clock, put out a decent drive and ended the game when Darrell Mack rushed for eight yards, allowing the clock to expire. Utah wins 42-21, gets revenge, moves to 2-0 on the season, but most importantly, 1-0 in Mountain West play.
This was a good victory for Utah. They played solid for 3 of the 4 quarters and did what they had to do. There will be questions about the offensive play calling, but I think Andy Ludwig mixed it up in the second half, especially when allowing Matt Asiata to throw a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The Utes still need to put together a complete game, because you can't start out slow against good teams, but last night was a strong effort and it's hard to find anything really bad about the performance. It was an exciting game with great atmosphere, the Utes looked pretty fluid on offense and that's really all that matters when playing an opponent like this.