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Back-to-back drives turn it around for Utes

Utah quarterback Brian Johnson had a big game Saturday, passing for 384 yards.
Utah quarterback Brian Johnson had a big game Saturday, passing for 384 yards.
August Miller, Deseret Morning News

By the end of the game, Utah had put a season-high 43 points and 563 yards of total offense up on a Wyoming team that led the Mountain West Conference in defense, so you kind of forgot how difficult it was in the early going.

The Utes struggled offensively early against the Cowboys and had to settle for a pair of Dan Beardall field goals on their first two scoring drives. However, the Utes scored two key touchdowns in the final 2:13 of the first half that changed the momentum of the game and sent them to a surprising 30-point margin over a Cowboy team that had lost to Urban Meyer's Florida team by just 18 points in their previous worst loss of the year.

Brian Johnson, who had another outstanding day with 384 yards passing, hit John Madsen for a pair of touchdown passes that both came at the end of six-play drives — of 81 and 60 yards.

"That was a huge momentum-builder going into halftime," said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham.

There was just 4:24 left when the Utes started their first TD drive, and they quickly moved to the 11-yard line where Johnson found Madsen on a fade route. When the Ute defense foiled the Cowboys and forced a punt, the Ute offense went to work again.

Johnson moved his team to the 12-yard line in less than a minute, and on third down with no timeouts left he found Madsen on an "in route" in the left front corner of the end zone that made it 20-6 with 11 seconds remaining.

"It was a great throw," Madsen said. "He threw to a place where only I could catch it."

Madsen finished the day with a career-high 12 catches for 117 yards, topping his previous best of eight catches against Utah State in September,

"John did a good job of getting open today," said Johnson.

With fellow receiver Travis LaTendesse out with an injury, as well as leading rusher Quinton Ganther, Madsen figured he would be counted on to pick up the slack.

"I knew I had to step up my game in order for us to win," he said. "When someone goes down, the next person has to step up and play that much harder. As a receiving corps we knew we had to have big games."

In all, 11 players caught passes Saturday, including freshmen Marquis Wilson and Freddie Brown, who were both redshirting until a couple of weeks ago. Wilson finished with two catches for 33 yards and Brown caught one for 37.

Johnson went over the 3,000-yard mark for the season with his 384-yard passing day, which came on 32 of 45 completions. He also led the Utes in rushing with 67 yards on 10 carries.

"The kid's phenomenal and he's just a sophomore," said Whittingham.