SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Now Kyle Whittingham can really say he's
1-0 as Utah's football coach.
Whittingham won in his coaching debut Friday night, a 27-24
victory over Arizona that extended Utah's winning streak to 17
"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
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
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
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
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
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.