Utah coach Kyle Whittingham celebrated his 50th birthday with a 38-7 victory over San Diego State. Saturday's win at Rice-Eccles Stadium upped the 23rd-ranked Utes' record to 9-2 overall and 6-1 in Mountain West Conference play.
"It was a good day," he said. "When you're my age, you don't want to celebrate. You just let them come and go quietly. But it really was a good day."
Quarterback Jordan Wynn completed 14 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown in Utah's final tune-up before next Saturday's rivalry clash at BYU.
Running back Eddie Wide rushed for two scores and receiver Jereme Brooks caught seven passes for 100 yards and a touchdown as the Utes won their 17th consecutive home game, the third-longest active streak in the nation.
"I thought our guys responded very well after last week's disappointment," Whittingham said. "(They) came out with a lot of energy, a lot of passion."
The execution, he added, was very good in all phases in the first half.
It didn't take the Utes long to get the sting of last week's 55-28 loss at TCU out of their system. They took it out on San Diego State quickly, building a 38-0 halftime lead.
"That was very, very positive to see happen," Whittingham said. "Jordan threw some nice deep balls early in the game, right on the money."
Receivers made plays, he continued, and the offensive line did a nice job handling SDSU's 3-3-5 defense.
"All of us were real disappointed with last week," Wynn said. "In football, the only way to get that taste out of your mouth is to get a win the following week, and we did that tonight."
Now comes BYU.
"Unfortunately this year there's no conference championship implications or any of that stuff," Whittingham said. "But it's still a rivalry game and always will be a big game."
Senior safety Robert Johnson agrees.
"It's big. Words can't even explain how big this rivalry is and how big this game is going to be," he said. "Whoever wins this game is going to take over Utah, you can say."
On Saturday, the Utes ruled Salt Lake City.
The defense got things started with an interception on the game's opening series.
Lamar Chapman picked off a Ryan Lindley pass near midfield to set up a two-play, 18-second scoring drive by the Utes. Wynn teamed with David Reed on a 44-yard pass play before Wide followed with an 8-yard touchdown run.
Just over nine minutes later, Utah doubled its lead in similar fashion. A 44-yard throw from Wynn to Jereme Brooks opened a sequence capped by a short touchdown run (2 yards) from Wide.
The Utes led 14-0 at the end of the quarter despite having the ball for just under four minutes.
The time disparity tightened in the second quarter as Utah's lead expanded. The Utes opened with a sustained drive that covered 69 yards on 11 plays while taking 4:30 off the clock. They converted on third down twice before Shaky Smithson's 4-yard touchdown run.
After forcing SDSU to punt, Utah embarked on another march to the end zone. This one ended with a 24-yard scoring strike from Wynn to Brooks, a play that was originally ruled incomplete but overturned by the replay official.
"Any time we get man coverage with the playmakers we have, we want to try to throw the ball downfield," Wynn said.
Leading 28-0, the Utes' next points came from the defense. Strong safety Joe Dale returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown with 4:48 left to play in the half.
Before time expired, kicker Joe Phillips added a 47-yard field goal to give Utah an even more commanding lead. The Utes had 267 yards of total offense and 15 first downs at the break.
Neither team scored in the third quarter. Utah punted the ball away three times and SDSU twice. The Aztecs also had a loss on downs.
The Utes' bid for a shutout ended on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Lindley to Dominique Sandifer with 11:44 left to play.
It was far too little, far too late to spark a comeback. The loss eliminated the Aztecs (4-7, 2-5) from bowl contention.
"Utah got up on us quickly. We gave up big plays and we had a couple of penalties on both sides of the ball that didn't help us," said San Diego State coach Brady Hoke. "We put ourselves back a little bit offensively and defensively. Then we had some things go wrong. We have to do a better job of stopping the big plays defensively and have to get better as a team."
Improvement was evident with the Utes, however.
"It was good to get back on the winning track," Whittingham said.
e-mail: [email protected]