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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Many happy returns

SAN DIEGO-Officially it was San Diego State’s homecoming game. But it was Ute quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Alex Smith who took advantage of his own little homecoming, as No. 8 Utah (8-0) defeated the Aztecs (2-6) 51-28.

Barely recruited by SDSU out of high school, the San Diego native torched the Aztecs for 298 passing yards, along with 5 touchdown passes.

“He’s as good as there is in college football,” Ute head coach Urban Meyer said.

The last time Smith had stepped on the Qualcomm Stadium grass, he was about as far from the best that a quarterback can be. In a now infamous redshirt burn, Smith came in as a freshman in a 66-14 blowout loss here in 2002, throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

“(This game) was the extreme opposite of last time,” Smith said. “Everything about this team is so much better.”

Smith began the game with four straight quarterback keepers, accumulating 18 yards rushing before he got others involved in the offense. After his first pass of the evening fell incomplete, the San Diego native was on target with his next six throws, one of which resulted in a 5-yard shovel pass to U receiver Paris Warren for a touchdown.

After Ute kicker David Carroll had connected on his first collegiate field goal, a 27-yarder to put the score at 10-0, San Diego State got into the action.

In what would become a habit, Aztec quarterback Kevin O’Connell connected with receiver Jeff Webb for a 29-yard touchdown pass to bring the Aztecs to within three, at a 10-7 Utah advantage.

Smith, as he normally has done all season, answered quickly – about nine seconds later. A 58-yard completion to John Madsen, combined with a 15-yard facemask penalty gave the Utes a first down on the Aztec 10-yard line. One play later, Paris Warren was standing in the end zone with his second touchdown snag of the contest, putting the U up 17-7.

The Aztecs, however, would not fold.

Spurred on by the O’Connell-to-Webb show and a Ute fumble returned for a touchdown, SDSU would eventually get within three, at 24-21.

Another Carroll field goal extended the Ute lead to 27-21, with just more than one minute left in the half. SDSU was in a prime position to send Utah into the locker room in a tight game for the first time this season.

But as is quickly becoming expected, Utah came up with the unexpected.

A three-and-out drive resulted in a SDSU punt with about one minute to go in the first half. But instead of pinning Utah deep and cruising into half time, SDSU punter Garrett Palmer couldn’t get his kick off in time, slamming it into Ute tight end Blake Burdette’s chest. Safety Tim Harris fell on the ball at the Aztec three.

In the blink of an eye, Smith had a TD completion to Travis LaTendresse, and the Utes had a 34-21 halftime lead.

At the break, Smith already had decent stats for a game, completing 16 of 24 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns.

Compared to the wild first half, the second was a yawner. Webb pulled in his second TD catch of the night, a one-handed, 22-yard snag over Ute Gerald Fletcher for the main highlight.

Marty Johnson plunged into the end zone for his ninth touchdown of the year, and Alex Smith completed his night with a 23-yard TD toss to Steve Savoy, capping the last of six Ute touchdowns on the evening.

On the night, Smith produced the “breakout” game many national pundits had been calling for. His 298 passing yards were good for fourth on his career chart, and his five TD passes were a career-best.

Not bad against the top-ranked defense in the Mountain West Conference.

“I credit our work ethic,” Smith said. “It was probably the best defense we played against all year.”

It was a banner night for Utah receivers, as Smith consistently spread the ball around the field. Four receivers had more than 50 yards, with Warren leading the way at 113 yards on 10 catches. He added two touchdowns, bringing his season total to six. Jeff Webb had one of his better nights, catching nine balls for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

O’Connell was inconsistent, throwing two interceptions along with two touchdowns. The Utah defense often had him scrambling out of the pocket, forcing him to rush 12 times for 34 yards.

Smith now stands at 17-1 in college games he has started. Not bad, but he still has a ways to go before he matches his 25-1 high school mark.

He will get a chance to continue on that path as the Utes return home to Rice-Eccles Stadium this weekend. The Utes will square off against Colorado State, who severely hurt their own bowl chances on Saturday with a loss to New Mexico. The game time on Saturday has not been determined.

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