Hopes dashed

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Things couldn’t have gone worse for the Utes in their opener against Oregon State. Besides losing the game 24-7, the Utes also lost junior quarterback and team savior Brian Johnson, who separated his throwing shoulder. The junior is expected to miss three to five weeks with the injury. Johnson went down midway through the second quarter when he decided to keep the ball on an option play. After playing the subsequent down — and even completing a pass — Johnson was attended to and hen walked off the field and didn’t return. Initial reports are that the injury was a soft separation. “It’s definitely frustrating, but we have to find a way to come back and get a win next week,” Johnson said after the game. Before the injury, Johnson had completed eight of 13 passes for 119 passing yards and led the Utes to their only touchdown, a 36 yard strike to wide receiver Brent Casteel. But without the upwardly mobile Johnson, the Utes just weren’t the same. Backup quarterback Tommy Grady failed to complete a pass in the remainder of the first half and didn’t fare much better in the second, completing five of ten passes for 31 yards. As a team, the Utes gained a mere 57 yards after Johnson’s injury. “We can’t blame it on the injuries,” Utah receiver Brian Hernandez said. “When someone goes down, someone else has to step up and we didn’t tonight.” Johnson, who missed part of 2005 and all of 2006 nursing a torn ACL, was named to numerous preseason award watchlists and was considered the best returning quarterback in the Mountain West Conference. The junior’s pass to Casteel was the first score of the game, coming just a minute and a half into the second quarter. But after that first touchdown, it was all Oregon State-specifically, senior tailback Yvenson Bernard. The slippery tailback broke Ute tackles time and time again and finished the game with 169 rushing yards and two touchdowns. On one particular play, Bernard broke through the Ute defense for a 54-yard run. Adversely, the Utes struggled running the ball the entire game and finished with merely 18 total rushing yards. “If you can’t run the football on offense and you can’t stop it on defense, then you don’t have a chance,” Whittingham said. “Our running game was anemic offensively and defensively they just wore us out. They kept hammering the ball at us, just like we thought they would. It was no surprise, no secret. We just didn’t respond.” Adding insult to injury, the Utes also lost starting running back Matt Asiata. The juco transfer rushed the ball four times for 16 yards before going down with what appears to be a season-ending leg injury. Coming into the season, Asiata was viewed as the Utes’ top recruit and was expected to be the workhorse of the offense. “It’s not good,” Whittingham said. “We recruited Matt Asiata for a reason — to bolster our running attack that was not good enough last year.” “All in all, it was a tough game for us. Losing Brian for four weeks and losing Matt for the rest of the season is hard.” As a team, the Utes rushed the ball 27 times for 26 yards. “We’ve got some problems to solve now,” Whittingham said. “No one is going to feel sorry for us. The bottom line is business and we need to get some things resolved. “That game was just a tough thing to explain. There were some positives, but I know for sure we’ve got plenty of deficiencies to work on.” Injuries aside, both teams struggled through a first quarter filled with penalties and punts before getting it going in the second. One of the only positives for the Utes’ was cornerback Sean Smith, who intercepted two passes in his collegiate debut at cornerback “I had a pretty good game, but at the same time we lost the game so that kind of takes away from it,” Smith said. “We take pride in stopping the run, that’s actually one of our strengths. But tonight we didn’t do that.”

The Utes will have over a week to try and figure out what direction the team will move in, in order to try and pull out a win in their first home game of the season against Air Force on Sept. 8.

Brian Johnson goes down against Oregon State. He had to leave the game because of a separated shoulder.