Defense helps Utah to 3-1 start
SALT LAKE CITY -- While offense was the preseason buzzword for coach Urban Meyer's first season at Utah, it's defense that has the Utes off to a 3-1 start.
Utah has hardly been overwhelming on defense, but has been good enough to give the Utes a bit of confidence entering Friday night's game against No. 19 Oregon (4-1).
"We just want to let everybody know that we're not just some team from the Mountain West Conference that you want to schedule for preseason just to get a win," nose guard Steve Fifita said.
Much of Utah's early success was caused by turnovers. The Utes have forced 14 already, including six last week in a 28-21 win over Colorado State that likely would have been a loss if it weren't for another key play by the defense.
Two Colorado State touchdowns in the fourth quarter tied the game at 21-all and the Rams drove deep into Utah territory before the Utes pulled out the win. Strong safety Dave Revill hit Marcus Houston hard enough to cause a fumble, which popped right into the arms of Utah's Arnold Parker as he started on an 80-yard sprint for the winning touchdown with 1:33 remaining.
The Utes know how close the thrilling win was to becoming a heartbreaking loss. Without Revill's hit, Colorado State could have easily had a short field goal attempt for the win and Utah would be 2-2 going up against a ranked team this week.
"I don't want to say one thing and have something else happen. I think, though, that this season is starting out to be really awesome," said Revill, who was the Mountain West Conference defensive player of the week. "We're excited. We're just hoping that good things keep coming."
Utah defensive coordinator Kyle Wittingham said he saw a turnaround in the second game of the season, a 28-26 loss at Texas A&M. The Aggies' 21-0 halftime lead seemed to wake up the Utes, who only have only four starters back from last year's defense.
"We knew there'd be a learning curve and the kids would take a while to start to click," Wittingham said. "That was when it really started to come together as a unit and that carried through to the next two games."
The Utes are still giving up too much offense and been too inconsistent for Wittingham to be happy. Opponents are averaging 364.8 yards and 23.2 points a game.
"We're not playing lights-out by any means, still have a lot of improvement to make," Wittingham said. "The key is we're getting great effort and the kids are competing. Any time that happens you've got a chance."
The defense's good timing has been great for Utah, which has played the last two games without starting quarterback Brett Elliott as he recovers from surgery on his broken left wrist, which he injured on the Utes' last offensive play against A&M game.
Alex Smith has played well in his place and could start again Friday, but Meyer said Elliott is healthy enough to play and has a chance to reclaim the job this week in practice.
Oregon is looking for redemption after being embarrassed in a 55-16 home loss to Washington State last week. The Ducks had reached No. 10 in The Associated Press poll before being humbled by the Cougars.
Even with the loss, Oregon is still averaging 33.6 points per game. Last week was the only time this season the Ducks have been held to less than 31 points.
"We've put that one to bed," quarterback Kellen Clemens said. "We don't have time to sit around and sulk. We have a big game on Friday. We've gone back to work."
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index