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U.'s Johnson has message: ‘Yes we can’

SHARE U.'s Johnson has message: ‘Yes we can’

There was a Barack Obama cutout being waved wildly down on the field in the post-game celebration. Later, Utah quarterback Brian Johnson entered the interview room wearing an Obama tee.

"He did it," said Johnson, making a fist. "So did we."

It's been a memorable week for both president-elects and Ute quarterbacks.

The way Johnson performs in the final two minutes, you have to wonder if he, too, should run for office.

For the second time this season at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Johnson guided his team to victory in the dying moments. The first was an October win over Oregon State. This time it was a 13-10 win over TCU, Thursday night.

"That's what we do," said Johnson.

Yeah, but does it have to be so doggone ... theatrical?

You'd think they would get tired of waiting around until the restaurants close to settle things.

The Utes kept their BCS bowl hopes alive by holding off a fine opponent that came oh-so-close. They ignored an abysmal defensive start, then laughed in the face of a diminishing clock. They didn't even get a serious look at the end zone until scoring with 48 seconds left.

"We knew if it came down to the fourth quarter, it would be a battle of wills," said Johnson.

Encouraged by two missed TCU field goals, the Utes took over for their last drive with 2:48 remaining, as Johnson completed seven of his final nine passes, finishing up with scoring pass to Freddie Brown.

The house celebrated like the Democratic national headquarters.

Long live soaring hope and big plans.

Which brings up the obvious comparisons with the undefeated 2004 Utes.

"This is more a model of Coach Whit (Kyle Whittingham). They were more coach (Urban) Meyer," said Johnson of the 10-0 Utes. "This is a tough, blue-collar, grind-it-out kind of team. We live for games in the fourth quarter."

Truth is, they are vastly different teams in some ways. The 2004 team that won the Fiesta Bowl was never seriously challenged. It won games by dozens of points. Fans could go home at half time and still rest easy.

Not so much with the 2008 Utes. They went scoreless and gave up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to hang on against Michigan; scored with 58 seconds left to beat Air Force. Johnson led the Utes to two touchdowns in the final 1 1/2 minutes against Oregon State. Last week they ground out a 13-10 win over New Mexico.

Convincing? Not completely. But effective?

Only if an unblemished record means anything.

The 2008 Utes are just like 2004 except more, well, bipolar.

Exactly how good TCU is became apparent as the year rolled on. Picked to finish just third in the conference, the Horned Frogs started 4-0 before losing to Oklahoma, dropping out of the BCS hunt. Or so it seemed ... After routing San Diego State, they struggled to beat Colorado State, 13-7.

It appeared they were a better-than-average Mountain West Conference team, but that's about it.

Then came the Oct. 16 rout of BYU. The 32-7 win hit fans of both Utah and BYU like a snowball to the noggin.


After that, the match-up with Utah was widely considered a battle for the conference championship.

A week ago TCU wiped out UNLV 44-14, while the Utes were struggling against New Mexico. That gave rise to the oddsmakers calling TCU a slight favorite, even though Utah was higher ranked and the game was in Salt Lake City.

Not that the Utes necessarily needed to be scared. You say TCU has a nice pass/run offensive attack? So do the Utes. Fast, ruthless defense? Got that, too.

Check and double-check.

Which led to a whole lot of buildup. Thousands of fans showed up in black hats, jackets and sweatshirts to support a promotion they were calling a "blackout." The stadium looked like Goth Night in the Round.

When the Utes charged the field, they looked a little like the invading Orcs in "Lord of the Rings" — snarling, vicious and angry.

Then the game happened, and it was TCU that swarmed, rolling for 202 yards in the first quarter — nearly as many as the Utes normally allow in a game.

But soon the clock wound down to the final minutes when the Utes are at their best. And once again they're pounding on the BCS door.

As Obama supporters like to say, they never thought they'd see the day.

But the Utes seemed to have been planning this all along.

E-mail: rock@desnews.com