Brad Rock: Utes look to possess all the key components

Published: Friday, Sept. 4 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Solid starting quarterback? Got him.

Reliable, rough-and-tumble running back? Got one of those, too.

First-rate receiver? Good to go.

Lock-down defense and high-velocity offense? For the most part — if you don't count an interception, the three fumbles (two lost) and that one trans-Atlantic-length touchdown run by the Aggies.

So maybe the nationally ranked Utes didn't quite blow the doors off Utah State in their season-opener, Thursday night. They rarely launch a season looking great. They're usually just a little bit messy. But good enough for a 35-17 win.

And remember this: The Utes don't usually hit their stride until the snow flies. Their opening games are a lot like first dates: A mixture of nice stuff, with a few awkward moments.

Utah quarterback Terrance Cain left no doubt who is the team's No. 1 signal-caller, passing for 286 yards and two touchdowns in his major college debut. Matt Asiata rushed for 156 yards. David Reed had a flamboyant 172 yards in receptions.

The turnovers? Aw, that's business as usual in the early going.

"We just have to finish the job," said Reed. "But we're going to be all right. We finish strong."

It's hard to tell exactly how good this version of the Utes will be, since they were playing the downtrodden Aggies. Utah wasn't bad, but neither was USU. It's just that they're on different levels.

If you were expecting a first-day rout, that just doesn't happen at Utah. The Utes traditionally start a season like a lawn mower after a winter of idleness. It takes a few pulls. In 2005, they won their opener by edging a bad Arizona team. The next year, they lost to a mediocre UCLA. In 2007, they lost to a nice Oregon State team and last year they held on against a downright embarrassing Michigan.

Although all season-openers are important to all teams, Thursday's had some fairly unique angles. Gary Andersen, who spent 11 seasons as an assistant at Utah, was trying to become the first USU coach since 1973 to win his debut. That was eight coaches ago.

Odds were never good USU would score an upset. It was a road game, but more important, it was against 18th-ranked Utah. The Aggies could have taken on a tougher challenge, but it probably would have involved time travel — back to the 1960s. Not only have the Aggies lost 12 straight to Utah, but all-time they have now played 51 games against ranked teams, losing 50. The only success was a 1991 win that barely qualified. Fresno Sate was ranked 25th, and the Aggies won by a single point. That's called shaving it thin, folks.

Otherwise, it's been as vacant as the road from Logan to Deweyville.

For the Utes, it should have been an easy assignment. They were at home, against a team they had defeated 19 of the previous 21 times.

Oddly enough, people were still calling it a rivalry this week. Maybe that's because the series began in 1892. USU won that initial game, but it was downhill after that, with Utah going on to a 77-28-4 series lead — the 12th-longest series in the nation.

If nothing else, the season's first game provided some nifty entertainment — unless you're a defensive coordinator. The first quarter alone provided enough big plays to last a month: a 48-yard reception by USU's Stanley Morrison, a 65-yard touchdown catch by Utah's David Reed, a 22-yard scoring catch by teammate John Peel, and a 97-yard TD run by USU's Robert Turbin.

Turbin's run was the longest scoring run in USU history.

Each team totaled almost 200 yards in offense in the first 15 minutes. They combined for 31 points in the first 16 minutes (Utah 21, USU 10). But finally the Utes came around. They registered a pair of safeties and held USU to 342 total yards of offense. USU recovered two fumbles, made a goal-line stand and completed an interception.

All in all, it wasn't a terrible day for either team.

On "Respect Weekend" — a nationwide movement whereby entire teams have been asked to line up pre-game and shake hands — both teams showed just enough to deserve it.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com

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