LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham knew it would take quarterback Brian Johnson a while to shake off the rust of a nearly two-year hiatus following knee surgery in December 2005.
Consider Johnson rust-free, as are most opponents when they're done playing the Cardinals these days.
Johnson threw for 312 yards and a score and ran for another 37 yards and a touchdown as the Utes held off reeling Louisville 44-35 on Friday.
"It was a big-time stage," Johnson said. "I wanted to make a statement and show the nation what the Utes are all about. We showed what we can do."
The Utes (3-3) rolled up 582 yards against Louisville's shaky defense, sending the Cardinals (3-3) to their third loss in four games. Darrell Mack ran for a career-high 163 yards and three touchdowns and the Utes held off a late rally by the Cardinals to remain undefeated all-time against current members of the Big East.
"We kept moving the ball and wearing them out," Mack said. "I don't think they knew what to expect. We kept them on their toes and they didn't know what was coming next."
Two weeks after lowly Syracuse stunned the Cardinals with big play after big play and ended Louisville's 20-game home winning streak, the Utes were more pragmatic in sending the Cardinals to consecutive home losses for the first time since 1999.
Utah didn't run free through a stunned Louisville secondary like the Orange, instead moving steadily behind the play of Johnson and Mack. Johnson spread the ball to eight receivers and added 37 yards and a touchdown on the ground for the Utes.
Whittingham worried about the Utes getting into a shootout with the nation's second-ranked offense.
But the Utes never trailed and responded whenever the Cardinals threatened to get back in it.
"We had just enough in the tank," Whittingham said.
Brian Brohm completed 39 of 58 passes for 467 yards and four touchdowns for Louisville, which played without three of its top receivers. Harry Douglas missed his second straight game because of an injury. JaJuan Spillman was suspended indefinitely Monday, and Mario Urrutia wasn't in uniform.
Patrick Carter filled in admirably, catching nine passes for 154 yards and a score, but Louisville's late rally fell short.
"No excuses, we had no excuses," said coach Steve Kragthorpe. "We're never going to make excuses in this place."
The Cardinals trailed by 20 early in the fourth quarter before a pair touchdown passes pulled them within six with 3:30 to play. But the Utes recovered an onside kick and Louie Sakoda hit a 46-yard field goal with 1:13 left to seal it.
"Right now, we're just not coming together as a team," Brohm said. "We're just breaking down in certain areas, not producing. We just have to get better as a team."
Louisville thought it had addressed the majority of its defensive problems in a win over North Carolina State last week. But it didn't take long for Utah's spread offense to find plenty of open spaces. The Cardinals managed to keep the Utes in front of them -- Utah's longest play was 35 yards -- but couldn't get Utah off the field when it mattered.
"You can't give up 582 yards of offense to anyone," Kragthorpe said. "We didn't play well defensively, we played terrible the first half in all three phases."
The Utes never trailed, taking control early on an efficient 97-yard drive. Johnson hit Derrek Richards for a 35-yard gain to get into Louisville territory, and Johnson hit Bradon Godfrey for a 7-yard score to put the Utes up.
"That was our key, to start off fast and make the other team quit," Mack said. "Louisville didn't quit. Give them credit. (But) we really controlled the ball."
When the Cardinals did appear to get stops, the Utes gambled. Trailing 20-7 late in the first half, the Cardinals seemed to finally get a reprieve when they stopped Utah at the Louisville 12. Out trotted Utah's field goal unit, but Godfrey, who doubles as the holder, stood up when he took the snap and tossed to a wide-open Matt Sims for a 10-yard gain. Mack plowed into the end zone on the next play and Utah led 27-7 at the half.
Utah had more total yards in the first half (337) than it had been averaging in a game (304) all season. The Utes reached Louisville territory on all but one possession in the half, and could have added more if they hadn't run out of timeouts. The half ended when Godfrey was tackled at the Louisville 7.