Utes: For Brian Johnson, it's time to stand up

Published October 5, 2007 1:42 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Alex Smith enjoyed all the glory, prestige and big NFL salary that came with leading the Utes to an undefeated season in 2004. Brett Ratliff will be remembered as the quarterback who replaced an injured Brian Johnson and led the Utes to an overtime victory at BYU in his first collegiate start and two bowl wins.

Johnson has been known for . . . injuries.

Utah's junior quarterback is recognized as the team leader among players and coaches, but the potential he showed in 2005 when he ran one of the best offenses in the country hasn't translated into big wins because he hasn't been on the field in the big games.

His most memorable victory as a Ute starter? Johnson hesitatingly offers up a 27-24 victory against Arizona in the 2005 season opener.

"That was a huge game, I guess," he said. "To get a win against a Pac-10 opponent is big."

Nice, but not as significant as many of the games Johnson has watched from the sidelines.

Yes, he played a key role in making the Utes a bowl-worthy team in 2005, but missed the regular season finale at BYU and the Emerald Bowl victory against Georgia Tech.

He played less than two quarters in the season opener against Oregon State before separating his shoulder and had to sit out Utah's much-anticipated home game against UCLA.

All of which brings us to tonight's game in Louisville, a nationally televised matchup against Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Brian Brohm.

Finally, a prime chance for Johnson to start building a reputation as a quarterback who can produce in big games.

"I've had this game circled on my calendar all year," he said. "It's definitely time and I want to give a great showing. It's a huge game for us and the program and show the nation what we're all about."

Brohm, who postponed his NFL career to return for his senior season, is enjoying the kind of national recognition Smith did in 2004 - a season in which Johnson acted as Smith's cleanup guy, playing in 10 games.

Johnson, on the other hand, is respected around the Mountain West Conference, but doesn't have the big wins that gets guys noticed nationally. He is just 6-6 as a starter, including two losses in which he left the game because of injury - vs. New Mexico in 2005 and at Oregon State this season.

"We know Brian is a big-game player," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He has been out of the mixture almost two years now, but we have a great deal of confidence in him."

With his shoulder nearly 100 percent, Johnson knows if he can lead the Utes to an upset of the Cardinals tonight - or at least a good showing - the Utes' 44-6 win over the Bruins won't be viewed as the anomaly it is today.

It's just the kind of situation Johnson has ached to be a part of when achy body parts wouldn't let him play. It's one that can change Utah's season and finally give him a signature win.

"Everybody wants to be able to play on national TV and have a chance for everyone in the country to watch," he said. "We know we have a challenge ahead of us and we know we have to play extremely well on offense. . . . As a quarterback, you have to do whatever the team needs you to do and go out and make plays and get wins. The team relies on you."

* Last week's 34-18 win over USU was Johnson's first complete game since Nov. 5, 2005.

* Johnson was 18-of-29 for 181 yards and two touchdowns against the Aggies.

* On the season, Johnson is 38-for-61 for 378 yards, 3 TDs with 2 INTs.

* Last week's 34-18 win over USU was Johnson's first complete game since Nov. 5, 2005.

* Johnson was 18-of-29 for 181 yards and two touchdowns against the Aggies.

* On the season, Johnson is 38-for-61 for 378 yards, 3 TDs with 2 INTs.

Dirty dozen

Brian Johnson is 6-6 as a starter at Utah. How his numbers compare in wins and losses:

In six Utah wins

Passing Yds TD INT Rushing

Sept. 2, 2005 vs. Arizona

19-30 220 1 0 18 yds

Sept. 10, 2005 vs. Utah State

18-21 268 2 0 70 yds, 1 TD

Sept. 22, 2005 vs. Air Force

21-29 305 2 1 39 yds, 3 TDs

Oct. 22, 2005 at UNLV

20-29 264 3 0 73 yds

Nov. 5, 2005 vs. Wyoming

32-45 384 4 0 67 yds, 1 TD

Sept. 29, 2007 vs. Utah State

18-29 181 2 2 5 yds


128-183 1,622 14 3 272 yds, 5 TDs

In six Utah losses

Sept. 15, 2005 at TCU

15-30 208 0 1 42 yds, 1 TD

Oct. 1, 2005 at North Carolina

22-34 211 1 1 98 yds, 1 TD

Oct. 8, 2005 at Colorado State

15-27 255 1 2 48yds

Oct. 15, 2005 at San Diego State

31-47 417 0 1 66 yds, 1 TD

Nov. 12, 2005 vs. New Mexico*

17-38 360 4 1 minus-43 yds

Aug. 30, 2007 at Oregon State*

8-13 119 1 0 minus-9 yds

Totals 108-189

1,570 7 6 202 yds, 3 TDs

* Left game because of injury

Utah at Louisville, Today, 6 p.m., ESPN

Utah State at Hawaii, Saturday, 10 p.m., KJZZ

Sacramento St. at Weber St., Saturday, 1 p.m., KJZZ

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