Utes stun No. 11 Bruins

By By Cody Brunner and By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Not too many people knew who Robert Johnson was before Saturday’s game against UCLA. After the game, however, the name might strike a chord.

The sophomore intercepted two passes and forced a crucial fumble at the two-yard line to aid the Utes in a shocking 44-6 upset over No. 11 UCLA at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“(Johnson) did a great job and it was very apparent that we needed him on the field today,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “He came away with two big picks today, could have been three, he almost had a third. If we can get that kind of production out of him each and every week then we’ll have a nice free safety for the next three years.”

The Utah defense forced the Bruins’ highly-touted offense to commit five turnovers and the Utes never allowed more than a field goal to run away with the victory.

“This team obviously showed a lot today,” said Utah safety Steve Tate. “Throughout the week we kind of used the David versus Goliath mentality. Nobody gave us a chance. I think we stuck together. The leadership on this team did a great job getting the young guys going.”

Whittingham made the decision to start Johnson at free safety earlier this week, saying that his athleticism and speed would match up well against the Bruins. That athleticism paid off in the third quarter when Johnson caught an interception on the sideline and got one foot in before going out of bounds.

Later in the quarter, UCLA quarterback Ben Olson completed a 50-yard pass to Marcus Everett, but when the receiver stretched for the touchdown, Johnson stripped the ball, forcing the fumble to roll out the back of the endzone for a Utah touchback.

“I just play the whistle,” Johnson said. “If there’s not a whistle, I’m going to keep playing. I knew that I was going to get over there to it, but I wasn’t going to give up, as in he might try to put the ball out there. So that’s when I went for the strip.”

In the Utes’ first two games against Oregon State and Air Force, run defense had been a problem. Hoping to solve it, the Utes’ coaching staff moved veteran Steve Tate from free safety to the strong safety position. The move left the door open for the sophomore from Los Angeles, Calif.

“(Steve Tate and backup Joe Dale are) both strong safety types and when both are on the field, essentially we’re playing with two strongs and not a free and this gives us a true free safety with a lot of range in Robert Johnson,” Whittingham said.

Meanwhile, the previously lackluster Utah offense used UCLA’s five turnovers and great field position to finish the game with 386 total yards. Quarterback Tommy Grady took advantage of huge momentum swings caused by the turnovers to light up the Bruin defense for 246 yards and three touchdowns.

That momentum was key to the Utes’ victory. Throughout the second half, Olson led the Bruins down the field only to have a ball intercepted or stripped when they got close to scoring points.

That was the case early in the fourth quarter when junior defensive back Terrell Cole came on a blitz and delivered a bone-jarring hit on Olson. The collision forced the junior to fumble the ball and basically sealed the game for the Utes. Utah’s other turnover was caused by freshman defensive end Paul Kruger, who intercepted a pass midway through the fourth quarter and ran it back to the UCLA 7-yard line.

Perhaps the only mistake the Utah defense made against the Bruins was a dropped interception that went right through the hands of Johnson in the first quarter.

Needless to say, Johnson redeemed himself and the Utes ran away with the upset win.

UCLA is the highest-ranked team Utah has beaten since a 45-31 win over Colorado State in 1994. The victory is the first of the year for the Utes.

“I don’t think anyone gave us a real chance to win this game outside of our team,” Whittingham said. “It was tough to rally up. The theme of the whole week was: what we put on tape wasn’t what we were all about. It’s about time that we came together, played as a football team”

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Lennie Mahler

RJ Stanford dives toward the ball after a hard hit knocked it out of UCLA quarterback Ben Olson’s grip.