They fumbled on the first play of the game. They had a punt blocked. They botched two extra point kicks. They committed a ton of penalties, many of the dumb variety.
In all it wasn't a pretty opener for the highly-touted University of Utah football team.Still, the Utes had enough offense to survive and defeat Utah State 32-17 Saturday night before a Romney Stadium record crowd of 31,287.
The victory was the seventh straight for Utah against Utah State and the 10th in the last 11 years.
"It was typical first game," said Ute coach Ron McBride. "We had some problems in our kicking game and way too many penalties. A lot of them kept us from putting the game away. But we won, and that's the key."
The Utes, who were 7th in the nation in total offense last year, got off to a great start, piling up 534 yards of total offense, including 509 in just three quarters.
Mike McCoy, second in the nation in total offense last year, completed 24 of 43 passes for 286 yards, no interceptions and two touchdowns. He also came up with two nice scrambling runs of 39 and 24 yards, finishing with 59 yards rushing on the night.
Without all the mistakes, Utah could have had an easy time of it. Instead, they had to sweat it out until late in the fourth quarter when they finally put the game away. The penalty-prone Utes were penalized 15 times for 133 yards, while Utah State only had one penalty for five yards.
Despite dominating the first half, the Utes took a slim 12-7 lead into the locker room. But they came out quickly in the third quarter, scoring in just five plays.
Sylvester Cooperwood ran for 16 yards, McCoy hit Derrick Marston for 25, before Johnson took off on a nifty 30-yard run for a touchdown. Johnson, just a few months out of Hunter High School, broke two tackles, eluded several others and scampered around the left side for the TD.
After Utah State added a 33-yard field goal by Micah Knorr, Utah came back to take a 25-10 lead when a 9-yard pass from McCoy to Rob Hamilton capped a 69-yard drive.
Just as they did a year ago against the Utes in Salt Lake, the Aggies got back in the game via the bomb. Matt Wells hit Shawn Turner on a 61-yard TD pass off a fake reverse with 12:38 left to give the Aggie faithful hope.
The Aggie defense held, but Markell McCain fumbled a punt return and Keith Harrison pounced on it for the Utes at the Aggie 16. But Utah couldn't put the game away as Brian Alba, who had a rough night overall, missed on a 42-yard attempt.
Utah State had a couple of more chances to possibly tie the game, but a dropped pass on third down foiled one drive and an interception by Utah's Edwin Garrette stopped another.
Garrette returned the interception 44 yards to the 4-yard line and on the next play Cooperwood went around left end for the clinching touchdown.
Cooperwood, a Prop 42 freshman, looked good in his Ute debut, rushing for 59 yards on 12 carries. The rest of the untested Ute rushing crew did well also as transfer Rob Hamilton rushed for 61 yards on 18 carries, while freshman Juan Johnson ran for 45 yards on 11 carries.
Although the Aggies were supposed to have the advantage in the rushing department, Utah finished with 248 yards on the ground, compared to a mere 39 for the Aggies. The Ute defense held touted running back Profail Greer to just 26 yards on 13 carries.
The Utes' veteran defensive line dominated the young Aggie offensive line. Although Utah's all-American candidate Luther Elliss was bottled up much of the night, defensive end Bronzell Miller broke through for a pair of sacks and Nate Kia also registered a sack.
The Utes had to feel frustrated not to be leading by more than five at the half. They dominated the stats with 323 yards to 125 for the Aggies. But Ute mistakes, a perennial problem for the Ute football teams, kept the score close.
On the Utes' first offensive play, Charlie Brown fumbled the ball away. Then at the end of the half, the Utes lost three points when they let the 25-second clock expire just before Alba booted a 50-yard field goal into the wind. Moved five yards back, Utah punted instead of trying another field goal.
In between Utah moved the ball well and held the Aggies at bay.
On their second drive, the Utes moved from their own 13 to the USU 8. But the Aggie defense held and Utah settled for a 25-yard Alba field goal.
Early in the second quarter, Utah drove 69 yards in nine plays with McCoy hitting Curtis Marsh with a 16-yard touchdown pass. Alba's kick was wide right, however, leaving the Utes up 9-0.
On the kickoff, Utah's Dan Pulsipher, who had booted his previous kick through the goalpost, for some reason tried a squib kick, giving the Aggies good field position at the Utah 44.
Five plays later, USU's Wells lofted a wobbly pass toward the end zone. Utah's Kareem Leary seemed to have a bead on it, but Utah State's Kevin Alexander leaped to make the catch and put one foot in the end zone of the touchdown.
Utah came right back and drove nearly the length of the field, but were held up in the red zone again and Alba kicked a 33-yard field goal.
Then the Utes had their chance to go up by eight with 35 seconds to go, but didn't get the play off in time.
"We beat oursevlves tonight," said Utah State coach Charlie Weatherbie. "Utah is a good football team and they took the fight to us. Utah found a way to win."
Next week, the Utes play their home opener, hosting Idaho State in a 7 p.m. game at Rice Stadium. The Aggies travel across the mountains to play the second game of their "WAC schedule" against Colorado State.