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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah quarterback Brian Johnson didn't have his leading rusher to set up the pass against the top-rated defense in the Mountain West Conference. Johnson didn't appear to need him.
Johnson passed for a career-high four touchdowns and ran for another score to lead the Utes past Wyoming 43-13 Saturday, keeping Utah in contention for a bowl berth with two games remaining.
"It was a total team game -- probably our best game of the season," said Johnson, who passed for 384 yards and ran for 67 more in Utah's sixth straight win over Wyoming.
The Utes (5-4, 3-3) gained 563 yards and extended the Cowboys' losing streak to four straight.
Utah also beat Wyoming (4-5, 2-4) for the sixth straight time despite playing without leading rusher Quinton Ganther, who had his left knee drained during the week and watched from the sideline.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Ganther could have played and wanted to, but he decided to give the knee an extra week off for the final two games of the season
The Utes were fine without him and got back above .500 for the first time since a three-game losing streak knocked them to 3-4. With games remaining against New Mexico and Brigham Young, the Utes can become bowl-eligible with one victory and likely lock up a third-straight postseason berth with wins over both.
"We put ourselves in good position to try to make something good happen at the end of this year," Whittingham said.
Utah finished without a turnover and didn't allow a sack. The Utes also contained Wyoming receiver Jovon Bouknight, who finished with just four catches for 43 yards. Bouknight had consecutive four 100-yard receiving games entering Saturday.
"When we need a play we're used to going to Jovon, but we couldn't get him into the flow today and we didn't get anybody else to pick up the slack," Wyoming coach Joe Glenn said.
The Cowboys were held to just two field goals by Deric Yaussi until a 14-yard pass from Corey Bramlet to C.J. Brewer with 52 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
After struggling through the first quarter with just 49 yards, Utah pulled away with touchdowns on four straight possessions in the second and third periods.
Johnson threw two touchdown passes to John Madsen, who had 12 catches for 117 yards, late in the first half and ran in for a 3-yard score after the Utes recovered a fumble deep in Wyoming territory in the third quarter.
"We wanted to make a statement today," Johnson said.
Johnson also had short scoring passes to Derrek Richards and Ameen Shaheen while throwing for four touchdowns in a game for the first time.
Johnson's previous high was three passing touchdowns, set two weeks before in a 42-32 win over UNLV that ended Utah's three-game losing streak. He finished 32-for-45 for 384 yards before getting some rest at the end of the fourth quarter with Utah leading by 30.
Dan Beardall kicked three field goals for the Utes.
Wyoming had the top overall defense in the Mountain West entering Saturday, holding opponents to an average of 339 yards per game. The Cowboys were also allowing just 23 points a game, second in the MWC, but gave Utah easy scoring chances with turnovers and short punts.
The Cowboys have 17 turnovers in the four straight losses.
"We've got to find it. Wherever it is, we've just got to find it as a team," said Wynel Sheldon, who ran for 82 yards for the Cowboys. "Now we've got to play for pride, get a winning season."
Wyoming led 6-3 after the first quarter, then the Utah offense took off after a sluggish start.
The Utes scored the game's first touchdown on an 11-yard pass from Johnson to Madsen with 2:13 left in the first half. Utah got two sacks on the next possession and forced the Cowboys to punt with 1:13 still to play in the quarter.
Adam Brooks shanked the kick for a 20-yarder that set up the Utes at their own 40 and Johnson opened the drive with a 20-yard run. Johnson and Madsen connected for a 22-yard gain, then on third down from the 12 Johnson threw another scoring pass to Madsen to put the Utes up 20-6 with 10 seconds left in the half.
"The way we finished the first half was great. Our defense studded up and got the ball back for us with a minute-and-something left," Whittingham said.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)