If it weren't for the disappointing finish, Utah's final possession at Colorado State may have been revered as "The Drive."
It still might.
Trailing 21-17 with just 5:05 remaining, quarterback Brian Johnson led the Utes downfield and into scoring position. The 18-year-old sophomore, making his sixth collegiate start, completed five passes and had a 9-yard run before coming up short on two goal-line sneaks.
"We came up short but I was very impressed with the way Brian handled himself on that drive," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "Hopefully that's a sign of great things to come."
Whittingham was particularly impressed with Johnson's poise and leadership in what might be his defining moment as Alex Smith's replacement. The drive, he explained, covered 79 yards and 35 inches — just one inch short of a game-winning touchdown.
"It was good that we drove downfield and all that, but you've got to find a way to finish," said Johnson, who acknowledged he's growing more confident with each game. "Good things will happen if we keep working hard."
The Utes, he added, are battling and fighting to do so as they prepare for Saturday's homecoming game with San Diego State at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"It's just a part of life growing up. Sometimes everything doesn't go your way," Johnson said. "The key is how you bounce back from it and how you respond from adversity. It's definitely a character-builder, but it's not what we want . . . We have enough character already."
Johnson, who ranks second in the Mountain West Conference and 14th nationally in total offense with 297 yards per game, intentionally uses the word "we" when discussing his success.
"Definitely. It's not just me out there. I've got 10 other guys that have my back. We're all in it together," Johnson said. "No matter what — good or bad, win or lose — we're in it together. That's how it's been from Day 1 and that's how it's going to continue to be."
Bonds have been formed.
Johnson, for instance, still maintains a strong friendship with Smith, the top draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers. The former roommates speak regularly on the telephone.
Smith, Utah officials confirmed, plans to attend this weekend's game at Rice-Eccles Stadium because the 49ers have a bye.
"It's a good relationship," Johnson said. "He's been there. He's battled, he's fought and I learned a lot from him. I think he also learned some stuff from me."
After six games as Utah's starter, Johnson has completed 110 of 171 passes for 1,467 yards and seven touchdowns. His pass efficiency rating of 144.05 is third-best in the conference. Johnson's 315 rushing yards include a team-high six touchdowns on the ground.
A seventh, however, would have been welcome. Not getting his team in the end zone at CSU bothers Johnson.
"I think it shows we are capable. But the fact that we didn't finish really bugs me," Johnson said. "Other than that, I think it was a well-executed drive."
Just an inch or so, as it turned out, from being a complete success.
Utes on the air
San Diego St. (2-4, 1-2) at Utah (3-3, 1-2)
Saturday, 5 p.m.
TV: Ch. 4