Utah defends conservative play despite close finish

Updated: September 26, 2005, 10:58 PM ET
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- Kyle Whittingham says going with a conservative offense with a big lead was still the right call, no matter how close the final score was.

Whittingham said Monday he would keep the ball on the ground again, even after Air Force's late comeback came up just short in Utah's 38-35 win on Thursday. With a 17-point lead, Whittingham said running the clock became a priority.

"We did what we thought was best for that situation. When you're playing an option team, typically they're not a quick strike team. It's going to take some time for them to move down the field. Unfortunately for us, they were able to do it very efficiently," Whittingham said.

"They were able to put two drives together back-to-back which made the game far more interesting than it should have been."

The Falcons drove 86 yards for a touchdown, then went 80 more yards for another score to cut the big margin to a field goal before finally running out of time. Utah had controlled the ball for 9:59 of the final 15 minutes, which turned out to be just long enough.

"Any time you control the ball for 10 of the 15 minutes in the fourth quarter with a 17-point lead, you ought to come out all right," Whittingham said. "I think we took the right approach."

Utah's win over Arizona in the season opener also was by just three points. The Utes led that game 27-10 before the Wildcats rallied to make it close.

Whittingham would still like to see the Utes hang on to a big lead but will settle for just winning. Overall, Brian Johnson had another record game, passing for 305 yards while completing 21 of 29 passes.

Johnson threw seven times in the final quarter, including four passes in Utah's first possession. After that, Whittingham primarily stuck with running the ball -- and the clock.

"You can't please everybody. If we had thrown the ball and had an interception and turned the game around that way, then there'd be more people upset with that," Whittingham said.

The Utes close their non-conference schedule Saturday at North Carolina, which lost to Utah 46-16 last year in Salt Lake City. Whittingham gave the Utes the weekend off after just watching film and lifting weights on Friday.

After his weekly news conference, Whittingham issued a news release saying linebacker Malakai Mokofisi was suspended indefinitely for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. No other details were released.

Mokofisi started the first three games and has 15 tackles.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press