Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Utah's Darrell Mack breaks through the line after taking a handoff from Brian Johnson (3).

Less than two weeks after an embarrassing shutout at UNLV, Utah's offense unloaded on Louisville. The Utes netted a season-high 582 yards of total offense in Friday's 44-35 victory over the Cardinals.

"Our offensive production was solid across the board," head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Brian Johnson played well. He's finally starting to shake off all of the rust from being sidelined for nearly two years now."

Johnson completed 24-of-31 passes for 312 yards and a score. He also had a 25-yard touchdown run.

"I would say Brian Johnson brought his 'A' game in front of an ESPN national audience," Whittingham said. "That's what great players do. Great players play very well in big-time situations, and that's what Brian did."

Johnson wasn't alone.

Tailback Darrell Mack also made a major contribution. He ran for a career-high 163 yards and three touchdowns.

"He continues to pound the rock for us," Whittingham said. "Our confidence level in Darrell Mack is very high right now."

Mack is now on pace to rush for more than 1,000 yards this season — a remarkable possibility considering he was called out of a planned redshirt year after the first game of the season.

"It's huge because now it takes a little bit of pressure off the quarterback position and off the offense as a whole," Johnson said while noting that Mack is averaging nearly five yards per carry. "That's just pounding the rock. The offensive line has done such a great job of creating lanes to be able to run through, and he's done an excellent job running through them. That's huge for us offensively to get a running game."

Utah had just 91 yards rushing over season-opening setbacks to Oregon State and Air Force.

The rise of the ground game and Johnson's return have helped the Utes win two straight and improve their record to 3-3 overall.

Steady play by the offensive line and consistency from the wide receivers have also factored into the resurgence.

"They're playing well. They're executing well," Whittingham said. "We've got guys making plays."

Offensive production has become an accurate way to monitor the Utes' success this season. They're averaging 431 yards of total offense in victories and just 269 in setbacks.

In Utah's wins over Utah State and Louisville, the Utes have tallied 907 yards (503 passing, 404 rushing).

The offense is on a roll.

"It's all clicking. I feel like it's getting better every day," Mack said. "Brian is getting that rhythm going for us ... Everybody's doing their part."

Even so, there's still room for improvement.

"We've got to continue to keep working to get better," Johnson said. "There were definitely a lot of plays that we could have made Friday night that we left on the field."

The bottom line, though, is forward progress is being achieved.

"I think we're moving in the right direction," Johnson said.

EXTRA POINTS: Defensive lineman Zeke Tuinei-Wily is out indefinitely with mono ... The Varsity Club, a group for ex-U. athletes, will host a reunion Saturday. Former football players will be introduced to the crowd at halftime. For more information, contact Manny Hendrix at 585-7233.

On the air

San Diego St. (2-3, 1-0) at Utah (3-3, 0-2)

Saturday, 1 p.m.

Rice-Eccles Stadium

TV: None

Radio: 700AM

E-mail: [email protected]