LOGAN Depending on one's perspective, Saturday night's "Battle of the Brothers" was bittersweet.
With the nation's 12th-oldest rivalry approaching a two-year hiatus, Utah and Utah State squared off at Romney Stadium for the last time until 2012.
The 108th version of the long-running series turned out to be memorable for the Utes and forgettable for the Aggies.
For the 11th consecutive year, Utah prevailed. This time it was a 58-10 decision, a victory that gave the 22nd-ranked Utes their first 3-0 start to a season since the BCS-busting campaign of 2004.
Quarterback Brian Johnson took a philosophical stance on the accomplishment.
"The best thing about being 3-0 is you've got the chance to be 4-0," said Johnson, who completed 22-of-31 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns. "We realize that this team hasn't played its best football yet.
"We've just got to keep working the process Monday through Friday, preparing the right way throughout the week, and Saturdays usually take care of themselves."
The win sets up a showdown between undefeated teams next week when Utah visits Air Force (3-0) in a key Mountain West Conference encounter.
"They're a good football team," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We have our work cut out for us."
The Utes, he added, have room for improvement especially on punt returns, which he called a fiasco.
"Overall, we've got to get better," explained Whittingham, who noted that the defense played well and that the offense put points on the board. "We're not where we need to be, but it's just Week 3."
USU coach Brent Guy thought otherwise.
"We did not have any chance to win," he said. "They physically dominated us."
Defensive end Paul Kruger, who tied a school record with four sacks, headlined a defense that held the Aggies to just eight first downs and 2-of-12 futility on third-down conversions.
"It was a good game. Coaches prepared us well," Kruger said. "It was awesome. Everybody was flying around. I happened to be at the right place at the right time a few times. It was exciting and I'm very happy with everything that happened."
Defensive coordinator Gary Andersen was pleased as well.
"It was a good day," he said. "The kids played fantastic. They did a great job of executing."
While an apt description of the defense and offense (for the most part), one segment of the special teams didn't fare so well.
As was the case in the season-opening win at Michigan, Utah fumbled away its initial punt return and set up a score for the opposition. This time the ball fell through the arms of John Peel and bounced off the turf. USU's Geno Odong scooped it up and gave the Aggies possession on the Utah 24. Three plays later, Sean Setzer teamed with Otis Nelson on a 9-yard scoring strike. Peter Caldwell added the PAT to give USU a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
It didn't last long, though.
The Utes responded by scoring on their next six possessions to seize control of the game. They opened the outburst with a sustained drive of 80 yards on 10 plays. Matt Asiata capped things off with a 4-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1.
After tying the game on an extra-point kick by Louie Sakoda, Utah continued its momentum swing when the defense took the field. The Aggies lost three yards on their next drive and punted the ball away.
Peel once again struggled to field the punt, but recovered his own fumble on the USU 40.
The Utes eventually moved into field-goal range and took the lead on a 48-yard kick by Sakoda.
That, too, proved to be short-lived.
Just 10 seconds passed before Utah's lead swelled to 17-7.
USU's Curtis Marsh, whose father also named Curtis Marsh is a former Utah receiver, fumbled the ensuing kickoff return after getting hit by Justin Taplin-Ross. Elijah Wesson picked up the loose ball and ran it back 10 yards for a touchdown.
Following another three-and-out effort by the defense, the Utes went on to increase their advantage, adding a 35-yard field goal by Sakoda with 10:23 to go in the second quarter.
Shortly thereafter, another opportunity arose.
On USU's next play from scrimmage, Utah defensive end Paul Kruger jarred the ball away from quarterback Diondre Borel on a sack. Derrick Shelby recovered it for the Utes on the Aggie 13.
Less than two minutes later, Sakoda kicked a 24-yard field goal to make it 23-7.
USU's fourth punt closed the next series and set the stage for Utah's sixth-consecutive scoring drive in the half.
The Utes used a little trickery along the way when Sakoda completed a 9-yard pass to R.J. Stanford on a broken play (it was supposed to be a punt) just inside Aggie territory. It kept what proved to be a 12-play drive alive. A 10-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Freddie Brown capped things off with only 23 seconds remaining in the half.
Utah led 30-7 at the break and held significant advantages in first downs (13-3), total offense (219-39) and time-of-possession (19:11-10:49).
The tide turned a bit early in the second half. Johnson was picked off by linebacker Paul Igboeli on the first play. After taking over on the Utah 24, USU managed to pick up one first down before settling for a 20-yard field goal by Peter Caldwell.
It failed to ignite a momentum shift, however.
The Utes responded to the first third-quarter points they've allowed this season when the offense got the ball back. Utah put together back-to-back touchdown drives to bookend another punt by the Aggies.
An 8-yard scoring strike from Johnson to tight end Colt Sampson and a 4-yard TD run by Asiata made it 44-10 with 4:39 to play in the third quarter.
Utah added two more touchdowns down the stretch when Asiata crossed the goal line from three yards out and Ray Stowers scored on a 2-yard run.
E-mail: [email protected]