Reserve QB to lead Utah in early MWC opener against Air Force

Reserve QB to lead Utah in early MWC opener against Air Force

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Tommy Grady has been waiting a long time to make his first college start.

Two years after transferring to Utah, Grady finally has the Utes' starting job as Brian Johnson recovers from a separated shoulder.

Grady hopes he has better luck as a starter Saturday against Air Force than he has coming off the bench.

"I'm real confident. I've been working hard for this for five years now," Grady said. "This is a good opportunity for me to go out there and show what I can do."

Grady hasn't had a chance to show much during his career at Utah since transferring from Oklahoma. He had to sit out his first season and last year backed up Brett Ratliff in seven games, completing seven of 14 passes for 102 yards and one touchdown. He also threw three interceptions.

Grady was 9-for-24 last week when he replaced Johnson, who could be out for another four weeks after injuring his shoulder late in the second quarter of Utah's 24-7 loss at Oregon State last Thursday.

With Johnson out, the option is also probably out for the Utes (0-1) against Air Force (1-0). The 6-foot-7 Grady is not a threat to run the ball.

"The option element we have is going to be different with Tommy Grady at quarterback. He has a great arm, great size and great poise. So we need to tailor the offense to his skill set," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

With Grady's duties limited to passing and handing off the ball, the Utes will need a much better game from their running backs than they had against Oregon State. Utah finished with 18 rushing yards.

The Utes lost 54 yards, mostly on five sacks. Once Johnson was out, Oregon State's defense could stop worrying about the option.

"It hit us hard this past weekend after the loss. We're just hungry to get that win," said Ray Stowers, who is Utah's leading rusher this season with 26 yards. "We just didn't get the job done. Period."

Grady has had the week to prepare, knowing he will be the starter in an early Mountain West Conference opener for both teams.

"You're not going to throw anything at him that the guy hasn't seen. He is not an 18-year-old fresh face," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "This guy has a cannon -- a great arm and a guy that happened to be in a program at Oklahoma that was extremely deep at quarterback."

The Falcons opened Calhoun's first season with a 34-3 win over South Carolina State last week. Calhoun replaced Fisher DeBerry, who retired after 23 years of running the Falcons.

Whittingham said he expects the Falcons to still run the option like they did for so long under DeBerry, just maybe not as often.

"It's going to be strange not seeing Fisher DeBerry on the sideline. He's been there for 20-plus years and it's going to be odd to play an Air Force team without him," Whittingham said. "They played well last week, but we know that they didn't use everything in their playbook."

Air Force gained 455 yards of offense in the opener and held South Carolina State, a Football Championship Subdivision program, to 160 yards.

Utah has won four straight in the series. Air Force's last win over Utah was in 2002, which was also the last year Utah had a losing record.

If the Falcons break the streak Saturday, Utah will be off to its first 0-2 start since losing four straight to open 2000.

"Our charge is to get on the right track. This is our conference opener," Whittingham said. "The Mountain West Conference is the bottom line for us. Our goal is to win the conference and this week is going to be our first step in that direction."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-09-07-07 1108MDT

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