No. 18 Utah (5-1, 2-0 MWC) overcame a slow start and inconsistent play to defeat UNLV (2-5, 0-3 MWC) 35-15 Saturday night. Utah's offense never really got in sync despite going up against a UNLV defense that recently has not been able to stop any offense. The Utes fumbled the ball five times, losing two, allowing the Rebels to control the ball and stay on the field for 30 of the first 45 minutes.
UNLV could not take advantage of Utah's generous spirit as the Utah defense played well, intercepting two passes, stopping UNLV on downs twice, and scoring a touchdown. Robert Johnson intercepted his fourth pass in two games and scored Utah's defensive touchdown. Defensive end Christian Cox intercepted UNLV quarterback Omar Clayton at the line of scrimmage but lost control of the football. Johnson happened to be at the right place at the right time, catching the fumble in mid-flight and returning it 64 yards for the score. Johnson now has 12 career interceptions and scored his second touchdown of the season. Johnson also added 6 tackles and 2 tackles for loss.
UNLV head coach Mike Sanford had his team fired up, as the Rebels were flying to the ball on defense and firing off the line on offense. Sanford is coaching for his job and for the first time this season it appears his players responded. The Rebels defense was actively trying to strip the ball and played perhaps their best game of the season, holding the Utes to just 327 yards of offense. UNLV played particularly strong in the third quarter, forcing the Utes to punt twice and recovering a fumble. UNLV's offense took advantage, scoring 9 points in the quarter on a touchdown and a field goal. Phillip Payne and Michael Johnson caused all sorts of problems for the Utah secondary, combining to catch 13 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown. Johnson had a 44-yard catch-and-run to set up UNLV's second field goal while Payne caught the touchdown pass despite being interfered with by Utah corner Justin Jones.
Utah responded early in the fourth quarter, driving 87 yards in 7 plays. Eddie Wide ended the drive with a 37-yard touchdown run that put the game out of reach. Utah's offense was inconsistent throughout the night. Wide ran for 111 yards and a touchdown, his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game.
Despite the 35 points on the scoreboard, Utah's offense was inconsistent throughout the night. The Utes did not put together back-to-back drives of more than three plays until the end of the third quarter. Utah had the ball for just 25 minutes and only ran 55 plays in the game, by far their lowest totals of the season. Terrance Cain completed 17-of-24 passes for 174 yards and 2 touchdowns and did not throw an interception, just the second game Cain has gone without throwing a pick. Ben Hendy caught his first passes as a Ute, and the seldom-used tight end caught 3 passes for 27 yards and a touchdown. Jereme Brooks led Utah with 6 catches for 49 yards.
Lamar Chapman led the Utes with a career high 8 tackles. Chapman also added a pass breakup.
Cox had a sack to go along with his interception. Cox leads the Utes with 2.5 sacks on the season.
Joe Dale left the game at halftime with a knee injury.
DeVonte Christopher made his kick return debut, returning 4 kicks for 107 yards with a long of 47 yards. The 47-yard return is the longest of any Ute this season.
UNLV:Phillip Payne and Quinton Pointer. Payne seems to save his best games for the Utes. The sophomore receiver had 7 catches for 58 yards and the lone UNLV touchdown. Pointer was all over the field for the Rebels. The cornerback recording 4 tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack, a forced fumble, and 2 pass breakups.
UTAH: Eddie Wide and Robert Johnson. Wide had another solid outing as the starting running back with 119 all-purpose yards. Wide did lose a fumble after a great play by Pointer, his second in as many games, as the Utes in general had a hard time holding onto the football. Johnson is now tied for 9th in the Utah record books with his 12 career interceptions. Johnson might have played the most complete game of his career as he was as big a factor stopping the run as he was defending the pass.