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U. youngsters deliver

Utah defeats Utah State for the 8th year in a row

Score another one for experience. Better yet, score one for less inexperience.

Utah, led by first-year starters Brian Johnson, John Madsen and Quinton Ganther, shook off a slow start to overpower a young Utah State team 31-7 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The Utes also warmed up defensively. They allowed just 147 yards over the final three quarters after giving up 101 in the first.

"The positive is we came back in the second half and took control of the football game," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

The Utes (2-0) extended the nation's second-longest active win streak to 18 games. Johnson set the pace by completing 18-of-21 passes (a school-record for completion percentage) for 268 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 70 yards and a score.

It wasn't enough, though, to satisfy the 18-year-old sophomore.

"We've just got to continue getting better," said Johnson, who completed passes to six receivers.

Madsen led the way with a career night. He scored twice while making eight catches for 155 yards. Ganther led Utah's ground game with 104 yards and a score on 15 carries.

Although pleased with the outcome, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said such good numbers need to equate more points.

"It'll never be as good as what you want or what you expect. I'm very happy to win the football game and to be 2-0 going in to play TCU," he said while looking ahead to Thursday's Mountain West Conference opener in Texas. "We have to be more precise on offense, without a doubt."

Utah wound up with 510 yards of total offense in winning the "Battle of the Brothers" for the eighth consecutive time.

"They are a good football team and we just gave them too much to work with," USU's Brent Guy said after his debut as head coach. "I told my guys if you make that many mistakes a good team will beat you every time."

The Aggies (0-1), who used 15 freshmen and 14 sophomores in the game, gave up 17 points in the second half.

A 29-yard field goal by Dan Beardall capped all scoring with 9:44 to go. A two-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Madsen and a two-yard by Ganther allowed the Utes to build upon a seven-point halftime lead. The latter came early in the third quarter when Antonio Young gave the Utes possession on the USU 17 after Kevin Robinson unsuccessfully tried to pull in a punt that bounced in front of him.

"That was the major turning point in the game," Whittingham said.

Utah led 14-7 at halftime after scoring twice late in the second quarter. The first touchdown — off a two-yard scamper by Johnson — followed a 47-yard pass play to Madsen.

The Utes' defense followed with its best stance of the night. A quarterback sack by Steve Fifita highlighted a three-and-out sequence by the Aggies that lost 16 yards and included two penalties.

Eric Weddle returned the ensuing punt 22 yards to put Utah on the USU 30 with 1:37 to play in the half.

On first down, Johnson and Madsen teamed on a 30-yard scoring strike. Madsen raced into the end zone after making the catch and spinning past a defender.

The late heroics brought life to a crowd that was quieted after an early 86-yard run TD by Ganther was called back by an illegal block penalty.

For the first time since 2001, USU held a lead on Utah. Ryan Bohm's three-yard touchdown run capped a lengthy drive that began with a fumble recovery by Antonio Taylor.

The Aggies, who eventually marched 82 yards on 15 plays, gained possession when linebacker Jake Hutton jarred the ball away from Madsen.

Though it was the Utes' lone turnover in the half, it wasn't their only miscue.

The fumble was preceded by a poor rugby punt by Louie Sakoda that netted just 10 yards and gave the Aggies possession at midfield. Though Weddle bailed the Utes out two plays later when he intercepted a Jackson pass on the 6-yard line, it didn't bring an end to Utah's early woes.

Midway through the second quarter, a 28-yard field goal attempt by Beardall was wide left.

"It wasn't a good first half. Utah State deserves a lot of credit. They played well and are well coached," Whittingham said. "They controlled the ball well in the first half and we missed a lot of tackles. In the second half we came back and played batter."

Good enough, as it turned out, to win handily. Mass contributions included 23 players contributing to tackles. Linebacker Spencer Toone finished with a game-high 12 stops.

"We're just gaining confidence," Weddle said. "A lot of young guys got to play a lot and we've got a lot more experience going into a big game next week with TCU."

USU, meanwhile, has a bye next week before hosting UNLV on Sept. 24.


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com