Meet the Utes

No. 10 Utah (5-0, 2-0), BCS busters of the Mountain West Conference, host North Carolina (3-3, 2-2 ACC) Saturday at 10 p.m. EST at 45,017-seat Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The Utes will be the highest ranked team the Tar Heels have faced since No. 3 Texas and Mack Brown came to Chapel Hill in 2002.

Urban Meyer is 15-2 in his second season at Utah and 32-8 in three years as a head coach. Meyer went 8-3 and 9-3 in his final two years at Bowling Green.

UNC is the third Bowl Championship Series team Utah will face this season. The Utes are 2-0 against the BCS in 2004, beating Texas A&M (41-21) and Arizona (23-6), and 4-1 against BCS teams under Meyer.

Utah is averaging 464 yards of total offense per game, while its defense is allowing 334.

The two teams have never met before, in fact, Utah will be the first team from the MWC that UNC has ever faced.

Quarterbacks


Smith
Heisman Trophy candidate Alex Smith (#11, 6-4, 212, Jr.) may be the best quarterback the Tar Heels see all season. Smith, 14-1 as a starter, is completing 61-percent of his passes and averaging 223.8 yards per game. He has eight touchdowns on the season, and thrown just one interception for a 164.38 efficiency rating – seventh best in the country. Prior to the win over New Mexico, Smith had thrown 116 passes without a pick. Backup Brian Johnson (#3. 6-2, 190, Fr.) has seen action in all but one game this season, completing 7 of 11 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown.

Running Backs


Johnson
Co-starters Marty Johnson (#1, 6-0, 225, Sr.) and Quinton Ganther (#13, 5-10, 210, Jr. lead the MWC's third-best rushing offense, which is averaging 223 yards per game. Johnson has run 81 times for 429 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and six touchdowns. But Ganther is coming off a career-high 106-yard outing versus the Lobos. The Utah depth chart does not list a fullback.

Wide Receivers

The Utes will start out with three receivers, H Paris Warren (#5, 6-1, 211, Sr.) and X Steve Savoy (#6, 5-11, 191, So.) are both all-conference candidates and form one of the nation's top receiving tandems. Warren and Savoy rank 31st and 33rd in the country for receiving yards. Savoy leads the team in receptions (25) and touchdowns (4), and is a close second to Warren in yards (377) and yards per game (75.4). Z Travis LaTendresse (#88, 6-1, 199, Sr.), the third starter, has caught 10 passes on the year, while Savoy's backup John Madsen (#23, 6-5, 220, Jr.) has two touchdowns and provides Smith with a huge target off the bench.

Tight Ends

Blake Burdette (#47, 6-1, 238, Jr.) and Willie Sao (#97, 6-3, 260, So.) do not factor much in the passing game, but instead give Smith and the tailbacks increased run and pass protection. Burdette has caught just two passes, while Sao has none.

Offensive Line

Incredibly, the Utes five starters have been iron men this season, playing on nearly every down. Tackles' Tavo Tupola (#78, 6-4, 300, So.) and Makai Aalona (#70, 6-4, 304, Sr.), guards' David Dirkmaat (#74, 6-7, 308, Jr.) and Chris Kemoeatu (#68, 6-4, 338, Sr.) and center Jesse Boone (#79, 6-5, 305, Jr.) rarely ever come out of the game. Kemoeatu, an All-America candidate, had 10 knockdowns versus Air Force. The average size of the unit is over 6-foot-4 and 311 pounds per man.

Defensive Line

Nose tackle Steve Fifita (#94, 6-0, 311, Jr.), a preseason all-conference selection, is third on the team in tackles, despite being double- and triple-teamed on most plays. He also leads the team with six tackles for loss and is the co-leader with three sacks. Tackle Sione Pouha (#90, 6-3, 330, Jr.) enjoyed a career-best 13 tackles in the Utes' 49-35 win over Air Force, including two sacks and two tackles for loss. End Jonathan Fanene (#91, 6-3, 290, Jr.) missed the New Mexico game after suffering a concussion against the Falcons, but is expected to return to duty this week. The other starter at end is Marquess Ledbetter (#55, 6-2, 245, Jr.), who has 18 tackles and ranks second on the team with five tackles for loss. Kite Afeaki (#99, 6-1, 271, Jr.) will shuffle from end to tackle and Reza Williams (#53, 6-3, 240, Sr.) will spell Fanene.

Linebackers


Toone
Rover Spencer Toone (#9, 6-2, 233, Jr.) is the Utes' leading tackler with 46 stops, seventh-best in the MWC. He has also recovered two fumbles this season. In the middle is Tommy Hackenbruck (#40, 6-1, 227, Sr.), who is right behind Toone with 36 tackles, including five for loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery. Twice already this season, Hackenbruck has registered double digits in tackles. At the "stud" position is Corey Dodds (#93, 6-3, 225, Sr.), who has three tackles for loss, a sack and an interception.

Defensive Backs


Scalley
Preseason all-conference free safety Morgan Scalley (#25, 5-10, 191, Sr.) is the most productive tackler and the veteran leader of the secondary. Cornerback Ryan Smith (#29, 5-10, 159, Fr.) has jumped right into the starting lineup and is currently fourth on the team in tackles and leads the team with three pass breakups. But Smith went out with a groin injury in the Utes' last outing, and he is listed as questionable this week against UNC. Bo Nagahi (#22, 5-10, 184, Sr.) will play both corner and nickelback positions, while Eric Waddle (#32, 6-0, 192, So.) is the starting strong safety.

Special Teams

Kicker Brian Borreson (#7, 5-10, 189, Jr.) converted his only field goal try this season – a 21-yarder, which is a by-product of Utah's red zone prowess. However, the extra point execution has not exactly been automatic, as Borreson has missed three of his 25 PAT attempts. Punter Matt Kovacevich (#19, 6-0, 197, Sr.) has a 41.9 yards per punt average, with seven ending inside the 20. Waddle, the punt returner is averaging 12.4 yards per return – 24th best in the country, while Nagahi returns the kickoffs.


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