8:00 PM ET, September 2, 2005
Rice-Eccles Stadium, SALT LAKE CITY, UT
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Now Kyle Whittingham can really say he's 1-0 as Utah's football coach.
|Active Division I-A Win Streaks|
Whittingham won in his coaching debut Friday night, a 27-24 victory over Arizona that extended Utah's winning streak to 17 games.
"Week One -- we passed the test," said a relieved Whittingham.
Whittingham was officially the "co-head coach" with Urban Meyer in Utah's victory over Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl that capped a 12-0 season. He joked that he was unbeaten going into the season.
Now, it's undisputed that he is 1-0 as Utah's coach, although it was much closer than any of the Utes' victories last year.
"Last season was a great ride and was fantastic how things happened, but this year we'll have opportunities to deal with adversity," said Whittingham, who spent 11 seasons as an assistant at Utah before getting promoted when Meyer left for Florida.
Utah won every game by at least two touchdowns last fall, but barely held on this time.
Brian Johnson survived a difficult first quarter in his starting debut and passed for 220 yards and a touchdown for the Utes. Utah's defense stopped Arizona at the very end, but not before the Wildcats had cut the lead to three with 9:23 left.
Quinton Ganther ran for 127 yards and took a shovel pass from Johnson 47 yards for Utah's first touchdown of the season.
"He's a beast," said Johnson, who completed 19 of 30 passes and didn't throw an interception.
Nobody was quite sure what to expect this year from the Utes, who are coming off an unbeaten season and missing many of the key players and coaches from a year ago. And after the season opener, it's still not clear what the Utes could do.
"At the beginning, we forced some things. But it didn't take us long to find ourselves and get it rolling," Whittingham said.
The Utes, who learned early Friday that their nickname had been cleared by the NCAA, forced four turnovers and used a couple big plays to pull away from the Wildcats.
Brent Casteel had a 59-yard touchdown run in his first college game, and Eric Weddle returned an interception 24 yards for a score for Utah.
The Utes held Arizona to 104 yards rushing on 33 attempts. Mike Bell accounted for 99 of Arizona's rushing yards.
"I'm happy with our performance, but turnovers and our running game was unsuccessful. And we are not a good enough team to make those mistakes," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said.
Johnson replaced Alex Smith, the Heisman Trophy finalist and top overall pick in the NFL draft. The 18-year-old sophomore made it through a difficult first quarter and some early nervousness, leading the Utes (1-0) to 446 yards of offense.
Johnson overthrew a couple of receivers on plays he could have run with it, and fumbled a snap in the first quarter, but looked more composed as the game progressed.
"I started out shaky, but after those first two series I was able to settle down," Johnson said.
Whittingham got to celebrate the victory, but not without some anxious moments. Utah led 27-10 after scoring 17 points in the third quarter, but allowed Arizona a couple of chances in the final minutes.
Ganther had runs of 18 and 27 yards as the Utes tried to run time off the clock, but Arizona forced the Utes to punt with 34 seconds left.
The Utes got the punt off and downed it at the 9, and Casey Evans sealed the win for Utah with an interception with about 5 seconds left.
Richard Kovalcheck completed 21 of 37 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns for the Wildcats, who never quite recovered from allowing 17 straight points.
Arizona came out in the third quarter, drove 80 yards and scored on a 13-yard pass from Kovalcheck to Michael Thomas, tying the game at 10-all. But it took Utah just three plays to regain the lead as Casteel took a run around the right end, cut back across the middle and went 59 yards for a touchdown.
After Weddle forced a fumble that Utah recovered at the Arizona 48, Dan Beardall kicked a 45-yard field goal to put Utah up 20-10 with 8:44 left in the third quarter. Weddle scored for Utah with 3:46 left in the third, pulling down Kovalcheck's pass and running untouched into the end zone.
The Wildcats rallied again and Gilbert Harris scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to get Arizona to 27-24 with 9:23 left to play. The Utes stacked Harris up at the line, but he kept driving his legs and got the ball in for the score.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||6-14||5-16|
|4th Down Conversions||1-1||1-2|
|FG||14:16||NICHOLAS FOLK 35 YD FG|
Drive info: 8 plays, 42 yards.
|FG||10:37||DAN BEARDALL 36 YD FG|
Drive info: 10 plays, 62 yards.
|TD||4:29||QUINTON GANTHER 47 YD PASS FROM BRIAN JOHNSON (DAN BEARDALL KICK)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 87 yards.
|TD||11:50||MICHAEL THOMAS 13 YD PASS FROM RICHARD KOVALCHECK (NICHOLAS FOLK KICK)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 80 yards.
|TD||10:48||BRENT CASTEEL 59 YD RUN (DAN BEARDALL KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 80 yards.
|FG||8:44||DAN BEARDALL 45 YD FG|
Drive info: 5 plays, 20 yards.
|TD||3:46||ERIC WEDDLE 24 YD INTERCEPTION RETURN (DAN BEARDALL KICK)||10||27|
|TD||0:03||BRAD WOOD 21 YD PASS FROM RICHARD KOVALCHECK (NICHOLAS FOLK KICK)|
Drive info: 9 plays, 69 yards.
|TD||9:23||GILBERT HARRIS 1 YD RUN (NICHOLAS FOLK KICK)|
Drive info: 11 plays, 60 yards.