Johnson back at quarterback for Utes

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Even if he hasn't completely recovered, Brian Johnson is Utah's starting quarterback again.

Coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday that Johnson will start Saturday against Utah State as the Utes try to keep a bad beginning from getting worse.

``This Saturday, Brian's the guy. That's just how it is and will be if we can keep him healthy,'' said Whittingham, whose third season has gone from one of the highest points of his tenure to one of the lowest.

Utah is 1-3 after being shut out by UNLV, 27-0, on Saturday, just the second time the Utes have lost to the Rebels. A week earlier, the Utes beat then-No. 11 UCLA by 38 points.

Johnson, who missed two games after separating his shoulder in the season opener, returned in the second half against UNLV but didn't fare much better than his backup.

He got the Utes close to the end zone but they never crossed the goal line.

Whittingham said the strength of Johnson's throwing arm was about 80 percent. Doctors had advised that the quarterback could play but also could use another week to recover.

The Utes were trailing 13-0 at halftime and needed something to revive the offense, which was struggling again under Tommy Grady.

Utah went 1-for-5 on fourth downs, missing once on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on the opening drive of the second half. Johnson and running back Darrell Mack collided when Johnson was supposed to fake a handoff, and the play never developed.

The Utes' next drive reached the UNLV 30 but ended on another failed fourth down. Utah also had four fumbles and an interception as the game continued to unravel.

``You've got to still keep that swagger, even if you're down 3-0 or if you're down 13-0 _ 13-0 is not that big of a deal to come back from. You've got to stay positive,'' said Johnson, who completed 12 of 19 passes for 78 yards.

Johnson will spend this week working with the first-string offense after practicing with the reserves last week. He doesn't expect his right arm to be at full strength Saturday, but it should be closer.

Johnson said the Utes would hold a players-only meeting to try to sort out everything that has gone wrong in three of the four games.

A week after upsetting UCLA, 44-6, the Utes failed to score against UNLV, which won only one game last year.

The inconsistency baffles Whittingham.

``One thing about this football team that I've noticed is we're very energetic and passionate when things are going our way,'' the coach said.

(© 2007 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. )

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