Utah beat the Utah State Aggies 34-18 in front of 41,884 at Rice-Eccles Stadium for its 10th straight win in the series. Utah improves to 2-3 with the win while the Aggies fall to 0-5.
In most seasons, a win against the in-state rivals would be treated as a matter of business for the Utes, who have won 18 out of the last 20 meetings. This victory was appreciated more than most, considering wins against teams the Utes normally beat have been so hard to come by for Utah.
The Utes had to have a win after suffering their first shutout since 1993 at UNLV a week ago and with a difficult game at Louisville ahead on Friday. Lose to the Aggies and you wonder if the Utes should even bother with the trouble of traveling to Kentucky.
Saturday's win might have come in horrendous weather and it might not have been as dominating as past contests between the two, but all that mattered for the Utes was the final score.
"It takes us out of that miserable feeling from last week, that is for certain," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We were as down as you can get after UNLV."
The Aggies were accommodating to the desperate Utes as they never threatened after an early lead.
The Aggies scored first on a 1-yard run by quarterback Leon Jackson III, a score set up by a 66-yard interception return from James Brindley. Brindley got the ball when he stripped it out of the hands of Utah receiver Jereme Brooks on the left sideline. He wove his way through several Utes to the right corner where he was finally hauled down a yard short of the goal line by receiver Brian Hernandez.
Jackson completed the play by following his line's big surge.
Any thoughts of a Utah State upset were squashed, though, as the Utes dominated the remainder of the first half. About the only stat that went in favor of the Aggies in the half was time of possession, as they held the ball for 18 minutes and 43 seconds to the Utes' 11:17. All it meant was Utah, in a rarity this year, was more efficient offensively than its opponent.
Utah quarterback Brian Johnson looked much stronger than he did when he played at UNLV, connecting on 13 of his 22 passing attempts for 159 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. The first touchdown pass went to Brooks on a 22-yard play with 2:42 left in the first quarter and the second went to Marquis Wilson for a 38-yard play in the second quarter that made it 21-10.
In between, punt returner Derrek Richards scored on a 75-yard punt return, highlighting a strong day for the Utes' special teams.
Johnson finished the day 18-for-29 for 181 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his first full game since the 2005 season.
"It was a good afternoon," he said. "I'm still trying to get into my rhythm and I'm a ways away with a lot more to improve and we have a big one next week. It definitely helps the more reps you get to knock the rust off."
In the second half, Utah emphasized its running game, and Darrell Mack responded by rushing for a career-high 132 yards on 26 carries.
While Utah did a good job of capitalizing on big plays and field position, the Aggies struggled in those areas. The Aggies' Joshua Taylor dropped a would-be interception in the second quarter that probably would have made it a 21-17 game given the clear lane he had to the end zone.
In the third quarter, the Aggies were given great field position when Jake Hutton scooped up an underthrown pass by Johnson at the Utes' 29-yard line.
The Aggies failed to score a touchdown and missed a 22-yard field goal. On the following possession, the Utes used seven minutes and 16 plays on an 80-yard drive that ended in a 3-yard touchdown run by Mack that made it 31-10. The drive was kept alive by a fake punt on fourth-and-8, with Louie Sakoda rushing for 22 yards.
Whittingham called that series of plays the difference in the game, as the Utes could sense they were going to get a much-needed win after stopping what little momentum the Aggies had with the long drive.
"It was exciting to get our momentum back and get to the point where we feel confident and play Utah football," defender Paul Kruger said. "Any win is a good one. . . . The team was fired up after the game and it was fun being able to celebrate. I'm sure there are things we could have corrected or done better, but for now, we're just excited to be back on top and be back to where we feel we have momentum going into Louisville."