Johnson looking for first rivalry win

By Chris Kamrani, Asst. Sports Editor

Since quarterback Brian Johnson’s arrival in 2004, Utah has only beaten its archrival once.

During that game, Johnson wasn’t even on the field.

Utah’s historic 52-21 victory over BYU in 2004 was the final stamp that allowed the Utes to be the first mid-major conference team to earn a Bowl Championship Series berth.

This season, the Utes stand at the same crossroads the 2004 Utes did.

The No. 8, 11-0 Utes have endured close calls, come-from-behind victories and blowouts, but the 10-1 Cougars stand in their way of yet another season of perfection and another trip to a BCS bowl.

“I think this team is staying fairly confident in its abilities,” Johnson said. “We knew we have a shot to be pretty good. We have understood that we have to work extremely hard, and this has been the result so far.”

Following the historic season four years ago, Johnson has seen his fair share of ups and downs during his time at the University of Utah.

Johnson was unable to get onto the field in the 2005-2006 season because of an untimely injury. Facing New Mexico in the second-to-last game of Johnson’s 2005 campaign, his successful freshman year came to an end because of an ACL tear.

The decision came down to whether he should take his available medical redshirt.

Johnson’s choice was one made for the future possibility that a season like 2008 could happen.

Although this year has been a roller-coaster ride for the Utes, it has also been memorable for the fifth-year senior from the Houston suburb of Baytown, Texas.

Despite receiving criticism, Johnson has had his hand in the cookie jar in terms of making this season what it is for the Utes.

“(Johnson’s) record speaks for itself,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “His win-loss record, which as I’ve said many times, in my opinion the win-loss record for a quarterback is the greatest measure.”

Johnson’s stat line is not astronomical by any means, but it’s the play of the senior in the clutch that stands out to those potential doubters.

In two games this season, Johnson has made the improbable a reality and silenced those who have doubted his ability to lead.

One term that has grown synonymous with Utah’s No. 3 is “winner,” especially when it counts.

“Brian Johnson’s poise and confidence is the starting point,” Whittingham said. “Everyone around him believes in him getting it done.”

His lone game against Brigham Young University came last season after the Utes started the season a dismal 1-3 but rebounded with a seven-game winning streak before going up against the Cougars.

Johnson threw 17-for-29 and 129 yards, including two interceptions. While Utah’s defense was stellar, BYU running back Harvey Unga punched it in the end zone with 38 seconds left, leaving the Utes on the wrong end of a 17-10 final.

This season will be no different from the past four.

Tthe Mountain West Conference Championship is on the line once again for the two rivals.

Just as they did in 2004, the Cougars have a chance to spoil the Utes’ unblemished record and their dreams of dancing in the BCS.

This year’s BYU team has marched to a 10-1 record, in large part a product of its high-octane offense. The lone stain was the Oct. 16 game that left the then-No. 9 Cougars scratching their heads as their nation-leading 16-game winning streak came crashing down to earth at the hands of Texas Christian University.

The 32-7 loss ruined BYU’s “Quest for Perfection,” but head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s No. 1 task will be bouncing Utah’s own quest at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“You’ve gotta find out what you’re made of when your back’s against the wall and in tough situations,” Johnson said. “When you’re able to get it done, I think that says a lot about the player and the team.”

The rivalry has been nothing short of dramatic for the past two seasons, and no realistic Utah or BYU fan could expect anything less from this year’s historic matchup.

For each of the past four years, there has been something on the line for both teams.

This season is no different, as the Utes are hoping to channel some of the magic of 2004 while the Cougars are hoping to put out the flame that burns bright in Salt Lake City.

One thing is certain8212;Johnson will be ready to finish off the task at hand, and BYU fans better hope it’s not in a potential two-minute drill situation.

When asked why he is so successful within the two-minute mark, Johnson responded, “(I) don’t ask questions. Just go.”

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