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USU, Utah Utes football: Johnson thrives on field while loved ones survive storm

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

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham shouts instructions to his players during Saturday's blowout win at Romney Stadium. (August Miller, Deseret News) Utah coach Kyle Whittingham shouts instructions to his players during Saturday's blowout win at Romney Stadium. (August Miller, Deseret News)
Beating Utah State 58-10 probably wasn't the highlight of Utah quarterback Brian Johnson's day on Saturday.
Johnson, a native of Baytown Texas, saw his hometown slightly hit by Hurricane Ike earlier in the day. His family and friends dealt with some property damage, fallen trees and power outages. But his loved ones made it through the ordeal without any major complications.
"Everybody's good," Johnson said.
Johnson knew the storm was coming during the week, but said he didn't stress about it. It certainly didn't affect his preparation or performance, as he completed 22 of 31 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns against the Aggies.
"My goal was to make it better by winning the football game," Johnson said. "I can control what I can control."
QB CONTROVERSY?: Utah kicker/punter Louie Sakoda continued his career perfection in passing efficiency against Utah State. He completed a 9-yard pass to R.J. Stanford on a busted punt play in the second quarter. The conversion came on a fourth-and-3, and the Utes finished off the drive when Johnson completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Brown. The score gave Utah a 30-7 lead.
Utah quarterback Brian Johnson focused on football instead of stressing about the hurricane that hit his hometown. (August Miller, Deseret News) Utah quarterback Brian Johnson focused on football instead of stressing about the hurricane that hit his hometown. (August Miller, Deseret News)
Sakoda's fourth-down conversion actually came on a broken play. He adjusted to some pressure in the backfield before passing to Stanford. Sakoda is now 3-of-3 passing in his career for 51 yards.
Sakoda was jokingly asked if he was ready to challenge for Johnson's spot following the game, and he played along.
"I'm definitely not at his level," Sakoda said. "He's our pinnacle. He's a one of a kind. You know, I do like to give him a run for his money to make sure he stays working hard. He's got a little bit more yards than me — just a little bit."
PUNT RETURN A 'FIASCO': The only thing the Utes weren't pleased about on Saturday was their performance in returning punts against the Aggies. A fumbled punt return by John Peel in the first quarter set Utah State up in great field position, and led to its lone touchdown in the game. Peel bobbled another attempt in the second quarter.
Jereme Brooks, who started the season as the team's punt returner, fumbled Utah's first punt-return attempt of the season against Michigan and it led to a Wolverines touchdown. He got another chance at the position on Saturday, but he too bobbled a punt return before recovering it. The struggles made Utah fans nervous, and when Brent Casteel cleanly fielded a punt return on a fair catch in the fourth quarter, they gave him a loud cheer.
Coach Kyle Whittingham said he'll look at three or four players to permanently fill the spot in practice this week.
"It was a fiasco almost each and every time we tried to return a punt, which is something we've got to get corrected," Whittingham said.
HE'S HERE: Junior college transfer receiver Aiona Key finally made his first appearance in a Utah uniform on Saturday. The Utes expected him much sooner, but Key's eligibility was held up while he was waiting for his final junior college grade to be posted. He suited up for Saturday's game, but did not participate.
"It feels good," Key said. "I'm late, but it's better than not being here. It was killing me. People are waiting, I'm waiting. A lot of people were working to get it done. I'm happy to be on the field, dressed."
Key said he has some experience in the area where the Utes struggled on Saturday — punt returns. He said he'd be willing to help where ever he's needed. If he plays on special teams, he said he'd love to work on the punt-block team.
"I do feel like I can contribute on special teams, offense, anything I can do" Key said. "I feel good, I'm healthy, I'm in shape, I'm ready to go."
SERIES BREAK: The Utes made their last appearance in Logan until 2012 because Utah and Utah State will take a two-year break from their series during the 2010 and '11 seasons. The two teams have played 108 times, and the matchup is the 12th most-played series in the nation.
Despite the history and proximity between the two schools, the Utes weren't a hot ticket at Romney Stadium on Saturday night. The announced crowd of 19,061 was short of a sellout.
SERIES MILESTONE: The 58 points Utah scored against Utah State on Saturday night set a record high in the series. It was also the first time team either team scored more than 50 points in the series.


E-mail: aaragon@desnews.com

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