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Debuts adequate enough for Ludwig, QB Johnson

Perhaps it wasn't breath-taking, but Utah's new offense, under the direction of new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and new quarterback Brian Johnson, proved adequate enough Friday night to produce a victory and extend the Utes' winning streak to 17.

After a shaky start, the Utah offense got cranking and piled up 446 yards of total offense, which was more than 100 yards more than last year's win at Arizona.

And those who might have been disappointed with Johnson's first start, just compare his numbers with those of his predecessor, Alex Smith, in his first start two years ago this week.

Johnson finished with 19-of-30 completions for 220 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Smith's numbers in a win over another Pac-10 team, California, in 2003 were behind Johnson's debut at 18-of-27 completions for 126 yards and no touchdowns. Smith did pickup 71 yards, however, compared to 18 for Johnson.

Ludwig's new offense showed some imagination with a couple of reverses, several five-receiver spreads and the reliable shovel pass that was employed so often the past two seasons. But he wasn't overly thrilled with the opening night performance.

"We did a lot of good things, but I'm anxious to look at the tape and get a true evaluation," Ludwig said. "Obviously we're not even close to being where we need to be, but it's going to be a lot easier going to work and clean up those things after a hard-fought victory. The key thing is we made some big plays when the opportunities produced themselves."

The best part of the offense was the play of senior running back Quinton Ganther, who finished with a career-best 127 yards on 24 carries.

Ganther was a bright spot early when Johnson was getting his feet wet and his 47-yard run off a shovel pass from Johnson late in the second quarter sparked the Ute offense.

Perhaps Ganther's biggest contribution came in the final three minutes when the Utes were clinging to a three-point lead after the Wildcats had run off 14 straight points and seemed to have momentum on their side.

The Ute defense forced an Arizona punt with 3:16 left, pinning the Utes at their own 20. Ganther danced off left tackle for 18 yards, giving the Utes some breathing room. Then on the next play, he picked up 27 yards on a run off the left side down to the UA 35-yard line. From there, the Utes were able to run inside of 30 seconds, not enough time for an Arizona comeback.

"They just put the ball in my hands and I got a couple of key first downs and allowed the clock to keep running," he said. "Everything comes from the offensive line. They did a great job and made it happen for me."

Johnson acknowledged he struggled a bit on the first couple of series, when he had some passes knocked down and lost a fumble. But overall he was pleased with his performance.

"We tried to force some things — me personally — but once I got those first two series under my belt, we executed the offense well," he said. "We'll keep getting better every week."

Ludwig wasn't exactly gushing about his quarterback's debut, but he feels very positive about the future.

"We have high expectations and he still has a lot of work to do," Ludwig said. "But he has a chance to be a very good player. After getting that first start under his belt I look for a lot of improvement next week and every week after that."


E-mail: sor@desnews.com