Utah ventures into dangerous Lobo den Print
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Thursday, 30 October 2008 10:11
NCAAF Headline News

 ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -It was a landmark victory for New Mexico - an upset of No. 9 Utah on Nov. 5, 1994. The Utes came in 8-0, leading the league standings and carrying a confident swagger.
Could it happen again Saturday night when No. 10 Utah (8-0, 4-0 Mountain West) visits the Lobos (4-5, 2-3)?
Perhaps, but New Mexico's Rocky Long has no plans to mention that victory in any pre-game motivational speech. The straight-talking coach is skeptical that a game played so long ago carries any bearing on this season.
``I don't think any of that has anything to do with this game,'' Long said. ``When you're 8-0, you're ranked No. 10 and you've been there before, there's no chance that they would every overlook a game.''
Flash back 14 years ago.
Nathan Vail's 22-yard field goal sailed through the uprights with 32 seconds remaining, lifting New Mexico to a 23-21 victory. Fans swarmed the field and took down the goal posts.
m, now the coach of the Utes, was beginning his career as a defensive assistant at the school. He remembered New Mexico, unfazed by its 3-6 record, scoring 20 unanswered points to win.
The comeback included a 56-yard passing play by Lobos quarterback Stoney Case on fourth-and-3 from the Lobos' 27 to set up Vail's winning kick. It's the highest ranked team New Mexico has ever beaten.
``We jumped out to a big lead and then we kind of fell apart in the second half,'' Whittingham recalled.
Strangely, a similar thing happened when the Utes last visited Albuquerque. Two years ago, the Lobos trailed 24-3 just before halftime but stormed back in the second half to win 34-31.
``Historically, that's a tough place for us to play,'' Whittingham said. ``We've got to stay focused.''
The Utes are trying to stay focused, all right. Four more wins would mean an unbeaten regular season, a Mountain West title and a likely bid to a BCS bowl game for the second time since 2004.
But as Whittingham noted, the Lobos have caused problems for Utah before, and there are other potential distractions. Right after this one, the Utes meet No. 12 TCU. They face archrival BYU, currently No. 17, before Thanksgiving.
Whittingham said he's confident Utah can break into the BCS games ``if we're able to take care of business. But we play two teams in the Top 25 down the stretch. We have a lot of challenges ahead of us.''
There's a stake for New Mexico, too - the chance to beat a Top 10 opponent, the diminishing chance of a sixth bowl game over a seven-year span and, with the final two games on the road, the last home game for 21 seniors.
The Lobos have been slowed by injuries, with 19 of 22 starters nursing some measure of bruising this week, though all will play.
Then again, Long always seems to come up with a solid defensive scheme, so this one is no gimme for Utah.
``New Mexico's defense can give you trouble and they're fighting to survive,'' Wyoming coach Joe Glenn said, breaking down the matchup. ``It's do or die for those guys. If you had an upset special, that might be one.''
On paper, this is the kind of showdown that excites old-school football fans like Long, who relishes a head-knocking, grind-it-out, physical contest.
The Utes, winners of nine straight, have the No. 9 rushing defense in the country, allowing 85.9 yards per game. Five of Utah's eight opponents have been held under 100 yards rushing.
``It's a knockdown drag-out fight to the end every year I've played them,'' Lobos tailback Rodney Ferguson said. ``They just play us hard and we play them hard because we both pride ourselves on being physical.''
Ferguson leads the Mountain West in rushing with a 108.1-yard average per game. He needs 135 yards rushing to become the third New Mexico player with 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.
``There's nothing deceptive or tricky in what they do, just good old-fashioned smash-mouth football,'' Whittingham said.
 

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