Brian Johnson looked at his matchup with BYU and quarterback Max Hall on Saturday as a personal challenge.

He started feeling that way while reading praise of the Cougars' explosive offense and criticism of the Utes' inconsistent offense. Besides winning the game, he wanted to play better than Hall and have his offense produce more than the Cougars.

If it had been a boxing match instead of a football game on Saturday night, someone would have thrown in the towel for Hall.

Johnson had perhaps his best collegiate performance in his final game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, as he completed 30 of 36 passes for 303 yards and four touchdowns in the Utes' 48-24 victory. Johnson completed passes to seven different receivers, and was sacked just once.

"I take games like these as personal challenges," Johnson said. "Anytime you play another quarterback that's a stud like Max, you take them as a challenge. You want to go out there and have the best offense on the field."

Comparing Johnson's numbers to Hall's shows just how one-sided the personal quarterback challenge was. Hall threw five interceptions, lost a fumble and committed a 15-yard personal foul penalty after one of his picks. Johnson didn't gloat about how much better he played than Hall, but he couldn't hide how pleased he was with Utah's victory, either.

"Everybody talked about how explosive BYU's offense was and how inconsistent we were throughout the entire year," Johnson said. "We wanted to come out and show people when we put it together, we can be pretty good."

Johnson laid the foundation for his near-perfect game by studying BYU's defense for hours and hours during the week. He made all the right reads on Saturday and didn't make one mistake that cost his team.

"I immersed myself in the preparation for this week," Johnson said. "There was not a look out there that I hadn't seen on tape before. I knew what they were going to do before they did it."

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Johnson's preparation was a big factor in his team's victory.

"Nobody prepares for a game better than Brian Johnson," he said. "He's already graduated, so he's all ball 24-7 and it shows on Saturdays."

Johnson had a hot hand early in Utah's win. During one stretch that started in the first quarter and lasted until early in the second, he completed 12 consecutive passes. He was a perfect 6-of-6 passing on Utah's second scoring drive, and capped it with a 16-yard touchdown strike to Brent Casteel.

The series put Johnson in a groove, and because he had BYU's defense pegged, there was nothing the Cougars could to do to get him out of it.

It was the perfect way to send Johnson out in his home finale. He leaves Utah as the Utes' all-time winningest quarterback. While he's endured criticism during his Utah career, no one can argue with how he whipped his rivals in his home finale.

"It's been a journey," Johnson said. "There have been some ups and downs, things we had to battle through not only individually but collectively as a team and a program. It's sweet. There's no better way to go out than like this."


E-mail: aaragon@desnews.com