SAN DIEGO — San Diego State's homecoming was nothing compared to that of Utah quarterback Alex Smith.
The junior, who attended nearby Helix High, threw a career-high five touchdown passes in leading the Utes to a 51-28 victory over San Diego State at Qualcomm Stadium.
It provided the Heisman Trophy candidate with some redemption in front of family and friends. Two years ago, he made a shaky collegiate debut here that featured an interception and just two completions for four yards.
This time, Smith completed 22 passes for 298 yards in carrying the ninth-ranked Utes to their 12th straight win over two seasons — the second-longest streak in program history. It also extended a school-record of victories at road or neutral sites to nine games.
At 8-0 overall and 4-0 in Mountain West Conference play, Utah is poised to move up from the sixth spot in the Bowl Championship Series standings, as well as the national rankings, thanks to upset losses suffered by Florida State and Miami.
The Utes are now 16-1 with Smith as their starter. He wasted little time setting the tone in the latest triumph.
Utah converted on third down six times while building a 34-21 halftime lead. Smith led the offense by completing 16 of 24 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns.
It almost wasn't enough, however, as SDSU proved to be pesky.
With 3:37 remaining in the first half, the Aztecs closed the gap to 24-21 when defensive tackle Blake Lobel returned a John Madsen fumble 19 yards for a touchdown.
The Utes, though, responded with a late flurry to regain some breathing room and maintain a lead they held since their first possession. A 36-yard field goal by David Carroll and a 3-yard scoring strike from Smith to Travis LaTendresse squelched the threat.
The latter, which came with two seconds remaining, was set up by a blocked punt. Blake Burdette deflected the kick and Tim Harris pounced on it. Utah added to the outburst early in the third quarter by scoring on its opening series.
Morgan Scalley's 32-yard kickoff return gave the Utes good field position. They eventually cashed in on it when Marty Johnson ran four yards for a touchdown.
Utah's 41-21 lead helm firm until the fourth quarter when SDSU's Jeff Webb hauled in a 21-yard pass from quarterback Kevin O'Connell.
It proved inconsequential as the Utes fired back twice down the stretch to cap all scoring in the contest, which broke an 11-11-1 tie in the all-time series. A 20-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Steve Savoy was followed by a 23-yard field goal by Carroll.
Utah built a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, a good omen considering SDSU entered the game with an 0-12 mark under third-year coach Tom Craft when trailing early.
A 5-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Paris Warren got things started. It capped a 12-play, 61-yard drive that took 4:51 off the clock. The Utes later added a 27-yard field goal by Carroll. Between scores, Scalley blocked a 40-yard attempt by Garrett Palmer of the Aztecs. By game's end, the Utah senior also recorded an interception.
SDSU scored its first points early in the second quarter on a 29-yard touchdown pass from O'Connell to Webb.
Utah retaliated quickly. Just 34 seconds passed before Smith and Warren teamed up for a 10-yard score to make it 17-7. A 58-yard throw from Smith to John Madsen, along with a face-mask penalty on the Aztecs, fueled the fast sequence.
A pair of sustained drives, one by each team, followed. A 5-yard run by O'Connell capped a 10-play, 72-yard march by SDSU. An 18-yard TD throw from Smith to Savoy provided the finale on an 11-play, 69-yard series by the Utes.
Utah (8-0) hosts Colorado State (3-5) Saturday, while San Diego State (2-6) travels to BYU (4-4).