Utah Opens the Whittingham Era with Win Over Arizona

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Brian Johnson passed for 220 yards and a touchdown in his first start, and coach Kyle Whittingham won in his Utah debut as the Utes beat Arizona 27-24 Friday night and extended their winning streak to 17 straight games.

Quinton Ganther ran for 127 yards and took a shovel pass from Johnson 47 yards for Utah's first touchdown of the season. Brent Casteel had a 59-yard touchdown run in his first college game, and Eric Weddle returned an interception 24 yards for a score for Utah, which won its fifth straight season opener.

Nobody was quite sure what to expect this year from the Utes, who are coming off a 12-0 season and missing many of the key players and coaches from a year ago.

Johnson replaced Alex Smith, the Heisman Trophy finalist and top overall pick in the NFL draft. The 18-year-old sophomore survived a difficult first quarter and some early nervousness, leading the Utes (1-0) to 446 yards of offense.

Johnson overthrew a couple of receivers on plays he could have run with it and fumbled a snap in the first quarter, but looked more composed as the game progressed.

Whittingham coached his first game after spending the last 11 seasons as a Utah assistant. He was promoted from defensive coordinator after Urban Meyer took the coaching job at Florida.

Whittingham got to celebrate the victory, but not without some anxious moments near the end. Utah led 27-10 after scoring 17 points in the third quarter, but allowed Arizona a couple of chances in the final minutes.

Ganther had runs of 18 and 27 yards as the Utes tried to run time off the clock, but Arizona forced the Utes to punt with 34 seconds left.

The Utes got the punt off and downed it at the 9, and Casey Evans sealed the win for Utah with an interception with about 5 seconds left.

Richard Kovalcheck completed 21 of 37 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns, and Mike Bell ran for 99 yards on 18 carries for the Wildcats, who never quite recovered from allowing 17 straight points.

Arizona came out in the third quarter, drove 80 yards and scored on a 13-yard pass from Kovalcheck to Michael Thomas, tying the game at 10-all. But it took Utah just three plays to regain the lead as Casteel took a run around the right end, cut back across the middle and went 59 yards for a touchdown.

After Weddle forced a fumble that Utah recovered at the Arizona 48, Dan Beardall kicked a 45-yard field goal to put Utah up 20-10 with 8:44 left in the third quarter. Weddle scored for Utah with 3:46 left in the third, pulling down Kovalcheck's pass and running untouched into the end zone.

The Wildcats rallied again and Gilbert Harris scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to get Arizona to 27-24 with 9:23 left to play. The Utes stacked Harris up at the line, but he kept driving his legs and got the ball in for the score.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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