USU, Utah Utes football: U. quickly snuffs out Aggies' upset hopes

Published: Sunday, Sept. 14 2008 12:42 a.m. MDT

Utah State' Curtis Marsh, top center, fumbles the ball, which was picked up by Utah's Elijah Wesson and returned for a TD.

August Miller, Deseret News

LOGAN — Depending on one's perspective, Saturday night's "Battle of the Brothers" was bittersweet.

With the nation's 12th-oldest rivalry approaching a two-year hiatus, Utah and Utah State squared off at Romney Stadium for the last time until 2012.

The 108th version of the long-running series turned out to be memorable for the Utes and forgettable for the Aggies.

For the 11th consecutive year, Utah prevailed. This time it was a 58-10 decision, a victory that gave the 22nd-ranked Utes their first 3-0 start to a season since the BCS-busting campaign of 2004.

Quarterback Brian Johnson took a philosophical stance on the accomplishment.

"The best thing about being 3-0 is you've got the chance to be 4-0," said Johnson, who completed 22-of-31 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns. "We realize that this team hasn't played its best football yet.

"We've just got to keep working the process Monday through Friday, preparing the right way throughout the week, and Saturdays usually take care of themselves."

The win sets up a showdown between undefeated teams next week when Utah visits Air Force (3-0) in a key Mountain West Conference encounter.

"They're a good football team," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We have our work cut out for us."

The Utes, he added, have room for improvement — especially on punt returns, which he called a fiasco.

"Overall, we've got to get better," explained Whittingham, who noted that the defense played well and that the offense put points on the board. "We're not where we need to be, but it's just Week 3."

USU coach Brent Guy thought otherwise.

"We did not have any chance to win," he said. "They physically dominated us."

Defensive end Paul Kruger, who tied a school record with four sacks, headlined a defense that held the Aggies to just eight first downs and 2-of-12 futility on third-down conversions.

"It was a good game. Coaches prepared us well," Kruger said. "It was awesome. Everybody was flying around. I happened to be at the right place at the right time a few times. It was exciting and I'm very happy with everything that happened."

Defensive coordinator Gary Andersen was pleased as well.

"It was a good day," he said. "The kids played fantastic. They did a great job of executing."

While an apt description of the defense and offense (for the most part), one segment of the special teams didn't fare so well.

As was the case in the season-opening win at Michigan, Utah fumbled away its initial punt return and set up a score for the opposition. This time the ball fell through the arms of John Peel and bounced off the turf. USU's Geno Odong scooped it up and gave the Aggies possession on the Utah 24. Three plays later, Sean Setzer teamed with Otis Nelson on a 9-yard scoring strike. Peter Caldwell added the PAT to give USU a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.

It didn't last long, though.

The Utes responded by scoring on their next six possessions to seize control of the game. They opened the outburst with a sustained drive of 80 yards on 10 plays. Matt Asiata capped things off with a 4-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1.

After tying the game on an extra-point kick by Louie Sakoda, Utah continued its momentum swing when the defense took the field. The Aggies lost three yards on their next drive and punted the ball away.

Peel once again struggled to field the punt, but recovered his own fumble on the USU 40.

The Utes eventually moved into field-goal range and took the lead on a 48-yard kick by Sakoda.

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