It's been just short of 23 months since quarterback Brian Johnson was at the controls of a University of Utah football win.

Saturday's 34-18 victory over Utah State at Rice-Eccles Stadium was the first for Johnson since a 43-13 win over Wyoming in Salt Lake City on Nov. 5, 2005, thanks to a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered against New Mexico on Nov. 12, 2005, followed by a shoulder separation early at Oregon State to open this season.

"It is, now that I think about it," Johnson said in Saturday's post-game interview.

"It's been a while since I've started and played a complete football game, so I'm happy to get that over with and looking forward to the game next week (Friday at Louisville).

"It's nice to get out there and make some plays, run around, and I'm just looking forward to build on what we did today and come out with a better effort next week."

Johnson was 18-for-29 for 181 yards and two touchdowns passing but also threw two interceptions. He was sacked once by the Aggies. The man who has been so good in the past at running on option plays didn't have to do that Saturday. He took off five times for 5 yards.

While Johnson played in the second half last week in the fiasco at UNLV, this was his first start since Oregon State and first successful start in nearly two years.

The junior from Baytown, Texas, said he had no worries about himself.

"Oh, not at all," he said. "When I'm out there, I'm playing 100 percent. I don't worry about the injury factor or anything like that. That's how you end up getting hurt. You've got to worry about the task at hand, and that's winning the football game."

Still, much of the sparse crowd held its breath as Johnson left the field just before Saturday's halftime with what looked like another shoulder injury.

"I knew I was going to come back out," he said. "Just took a little shot. Just depends how you land on it. It's football. You get hit in football. You're not going to go sit on the bench just because you got hit.

"It's kind of just a sharp pain. It lasts a little while, and then it's gone. Really not that big of a deal."

FAKE PUNT: One of the key plays of the game for Utah came early in the third quarter after the Ute defense held the Aggies without a score after they had first-and-goal at the 2.

The Utes couldn't make a first down and faced fourth-and-eight at the Utah 22-yard line. It didn't seem like time for a fake punt, with the Utes holding a tenuous 24-10 lead.

However, after punter Louie Sakoda received the snap, he suddenly took off running down the east sideline. No one was near him until he picked up 22 yards, which kept an 80-yard touchdown drive alive.

Coach Kyle Whittingham gave credit to special teams coach Jay Hill for noticing the way the Aggies covered some of their punts in the previous game.

"The way they were setting up their punt return, they were doing that massive retreat with all 10 punt-return personnel," said Whittingham. "We talked about it at halftime, and Jay Hill got it all set up and took advantage of it. We were able to exploit that, and it turned out to be big plus for us."

RED ZONE REGRETS: One statistic that's really starting to frustrate Utah State coach Brent Guy and the Aggies is the team's red-zone conversion percentage. Utah State was just 3-for-5 on scoring opportunities inside of Utah's 20-yard line Saturday.

Utah State missed a 22-yard field goal early in the third quarter when the game was still within reach. The Aggies were then stopped on fourth down on Utah's 13 after making a successful onside kick late in the contest.

The Aggies are now just 12-for-16 deep in opponents' territory this year, with only six touchdowns.

"We've got to score points in the red zone," Guy said. "Inside the 5, we've got to score touchdowns to get into football games, to stay in football games, and finally to win football games. And that's what our Achilles' heel is right now."

FIRST BLOOD: When Leon Jackson III scored his 1-yard touchdown — set up by a 64-yard interception return from James Brindley — it marked the first time this season the Aggies scored in the opening quarter.

USU hadn't scored in the first 12 minutes of a game since Nov. 4 against Hawaii. And the Aggies hadn't scored a first-quarter TD since Oct. 14 against San Jose State.

MEMORABLE HOMECOMING: Utah's homecoming victory may be remembered for the weather as much as anything else. It was just 38 degrees at kickoff with rain and snow falling throughout the game.

"What was that all about?" said Whittingham, who noted that the conditions were quite odd for late September. "But it is what it is."

The Utes are now 53-30-5 in homecoming games, including a 6-0 mark against the Aggies.

EXTRA POINTS: Utah now leads the all-time series with USU by a 53-30-4 margin ... The Aggies are off to an 0-5 start for the second straight year and third time over the past seven seasons ... The announced attendance was 41,884, though the actual number of attendees was much smaller.

Contributing: Linda Hamilton, Dirk Facer, Mike Sorensen, Jody Genessy