Scott Sommerdorf/The Salt Lake Tribune
Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008 | midnight
More from Salt Lake
- Box Score
- Final drive leaves a glimmer of hope for Rebels
- UNLV Football Notebook: Hales, Pointer return quietly
- Sept. 6, 2008 -- Live UNLV game blog vs. Utah
- Sept. 4, 2008 -- Judgment Days: Utah: Not just your average road game
- Sept. 6 -- UNLV to face several tests in Salt Lake
- Sept. 5 -- A good, long look at … Utah
- Sept. 5 -- Is this the rise of the Mountain West?
- Sept. 4 -- UNLV Football Notebook: Fire up the Tank?
- Opponent: Arizona State
- Time: 7 p.m.
- Where: Tempe, Ariz.
- Records: UNLV 1-1, ASU 2-0
SALT LAKE CITY -- In a two-week stretch that includes two nationally ranked opponents, UNLV badly needed to make it to its Week Four return home against Iowa State as healthy as possible.
That venture took a major hit Saturday night as second quarter injuries to starting linebackers Starr Fuimaono and Ronnie Paulo -- a couple of plays apart, at that -- set off a domino effect in Utah's favor. The No. 22 Utes separated in the second half to stomp out the Rebels, 42-21, at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Both linebackers left the post game locker room on crutches. Fuimaono has a left knee injury, the extent of which will be known following an MRI early this week. Paulo suffered a bad ankle sprain, and depth issues -- plus a hit to the team's overall emotional level -- took over from there.
"It affected us, no question," coach Mike Sanford said. "I think it was a combination of momentum and those guys are good players, and when they're out of there, it affects you.
"We're still not to the point in this program where we have enough depth behind them to replace them with equally talented players. I love the guys that came in -- they gave great effort and tried hard -- but it affected our team to lose those two guys."
Rusty Worthen was one of the backups to pick up major minutes, while UNLV played a lot of nickel from there on out.
Maybe call it a coincidence, but Worthen was in on two plays that helped swing momentum in Utah's favor for good.
With the Rebels leading 7-0 early in the second quarter -- thanks to an efficient opening drive capped with a Frank Summers touchdown plunge -- Utah quarterback Brian Johnson escaped Worthen's grasp and scampered 56 yards on a broken play for the tying score.
Then, with UNLV back on top 14-7 nearing halftime, Worthen was called for a personal foul on third down deep in Utah territory after executing a horse-collar tackle. The drive kept going -- and also included an overturned fumble call near midfield -- and the Utes tied it up with a short Matt Asiata run before the half.
"Looking at the whole thing, I think we played good enough to win in the first half, and I expected us to come out and win the game in the second half," Sanford said.
Following the break, Utah simply went nuts. Thanks to good field position throughout the third and fourth quarters, it became a quick backward fall for UNLV in front of a hostile crowd.
"It wasn't good enough," Summers said of the first half. "Two (different) ballgames between the first half and the second half."
Added Sanford: "I think that the second half, that is not the kind of football that we want to play. We reverted to some bad, old habits."
To say Utah dominated the second half alone might not do the Utes' performance justice. Powered by a touchdown toss from Johnson and another score through the air on a trick play involving Asiata taking the snap, Utah outscored UNLV 21-0 in the third quarter.
Johnson finished with 183 yards through the air, two touchdown passes and another 80 yards on the ground. Omar Clayton finished with 159 yards and one score on 19-of-30 passing for UNLV, with nine of those completions going to Ryan Wolfe. Summers ran for 87 yards on 23 carries, though things later tightened up on the UNLV back, who torched Utah for 219 total yards a year ago in a shutout win at home. Of his 87 yards Saturday night, 40 came on the game's opening possession.
The one saving grace for UNLV was a late score on a fade pass to Phillip Payne from Clayton. It was nice for character's sake, but couldn't change what went wrong in the 2008 road debut for the Rebels.
"I don't think at any point in that second half, I don't think we ever quit," Clayton said. "Utah's ranked the 22nd team in the nation, and we played with them for the first half. The key words are 'the first half.' Maybe that's where that No. 22 in the nation comes into play. If we ever want to get into a situation like that, we gotta learn how to come out in the second half and play."