Life of Brian: Playing to win

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Loaded with a bevy of preseason accolades and the hopes of many Ute fans, Utah’s Brian Johnson is finally ready to re-ascend his throne as the starting quarterback.

He has spent the better half of the last two years either rehabbing his knee or getting reps with the scout team offense, patiently waiting for his time.

That time is now. The Chronicle caught up the former standout earlier this week.

Chronicle: Going into this season, the Utes are supposed to have this big, high-powered offense. How would you grade the unit right now?

Johnson: Right now I’d say we’re good with a chance to be great. It just comes with time, you know. It doesn’t just happen like that. You’ve got to work together, you’ve got to play together. It’s a process, but I believe we’re going to be a very efficient offense.

Chronicle: Barring a 57-yard completion against BYU, the longest pass-play from scrimmage last year was 40 yards. Can Utah fans expect to see a more vertical passing attack this year?

Johnson: We want to have a lot of what we call “explosive plays” on offense, which are passes over 20 yards and runs over 12 (yards). We want to make those plays, but our main thing is we want to throw completions and be efficient.

Chronicle: Who do you think the biggest deep-ball threat is on the team?

Johnson: It’s probably Derrek Richards. A lot of times, opposing DBs (defensive backs) don’t realize how fast he is, you know? He’ll run by everybody and make plays downfield. I’d probably say him, Freddie Brown and Brian Hernandez.

Chronicle: Hypothetical situation — It’s fourth and 12 and coach Whit is going for it. Who are you looking for to make the guaranteed catch?

Johnson: Whoever’s open. As the quarterback, you can’t say, “I’m going to throw to this guy.” You’ve got to go through your reads and go through your progressions and get the ball to whoever’s open.

Chronicle: You haven’t really been in any contact drills or scrimmages in close to two years —

Johnson: They say it’s something like 656 days.

Chronicle: You know the exact days?

Johnson: I know the exact days.

Chronicle: How do you anticipate that first hit feeling?

Johnson: I’m ready to get it over with — the sooner, the better. Once it happens, then you don’t have to worry about it anymore and it’s football from then on.

Chronicle: Are you concerned at all with how the knee will hold up?

Johnson: No, man, none at all.

Chronicle: Have you gotten a chance to look at Oregon State’s defense yet?

Johnson: I watched them all summer and I’ve been watching them quite a bit more over the last two weeks. They play together as a unit and there’s a lot of talent, speed and athleticism, you know? Everything you would expect from a premier team from a premier conference.

Chronicle: Any player in particular that impresses you?

Johnson: Smith, the defensive end. He is a really talented guy. They also have great linebackers. They do a nice job of getting to the ball and making plays.

Chronicle: Oregon State’s offense is just loaded with talent. How many points do you think it’s going to take to get a win?

Johnson: We definitely have to score touchdowns, but the biggest thing is to take care of the ball. We can’t give them a short field.

Chronicle: Finish this thought for me — Utah will beat Oregon State if?

Johnson: …if we play great defense, protect the football, score in the red zone and play great on special teams. We’re playing to win up there. That’s our slogan — we’re playing to win.

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