Johnson, Utes pick up MWC awards

By By Tony Pizza, Sports Editor

By Tony Pizza, Sports Editor

Eleven days after completing its second perfect regular season in five years, the Utah football team started raking in the benefits.

Quarterback Brian Johnson was named Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Louie Sakoda was named MWC Special Teams Player of the Year and Kyle Whittingham was named the league’s Coach of the Year as Utah cleaned up nicely in the conference’s year-end awards.

Johnson, who ranks No. 2 in the conference in pass efficiency at 148.3, averaged 219.7 yards passing and 231.6 yards of total offense in 2008. He completed 68.3 percent of his passes this year and threw 24 touchdowns compared to nine interceptions and scored another one on the ground. Johnson’s season was highlighted by two late-game rallies against Oregon State and TCU.

On Oct. 2 against the Beavers, Johnson and the Utes were faced with an eight-point deficit with two minutes 11 seconds to play in the game. Johnson went 4-for-4 on a 60-yard drive that culminated with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Bradon Godfrey.

Johnson then ran in the ensuing two-point conversion to tie the game and helped move the Utes into field goal range on 3-for-4 passing for 29 yards, allowing Sakoda to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired.

In a near carbon-copy performance against TCU, the Utes trailed the Horned Frogs 10-6 with two minutes 48 seconds remaining. Needing a touchdown, Johnson completed 7-of-8 passing attempts and drove the Utes 80 yards when he hit Freddie Brown in the end zone with 48 seconds left on the clock.

Johnson finished the season in a dominant fashion, throwing for 588 yards on 57-for-74 (77 percent) passing and nine touchdowns compared to just one interception in the Utes’ final two games.

Johnson is the second Utah quarterback to win the MWC’s Offensive Player of the Year Award. His longtime friend Alex Smith was the first. Johnson was named Offensive Player of the Week three times in 2008.

Sakoda, Utah’s all-purpose man on special teams, was the only Utah player honored more by the MWC on a weekly basis.

Sakoda was named Special Teams Player of the Week five times in 2008, giving him a record 12 for his career. He earned the Special Teams Player of the Year Award three consecutive times, making him the first player in MWC history to do so.

On field goals, Sakoda went 15-for-17 this year, including a perfect 15-for-15 inside of 47 yards. Sakoda also went 52-for-53 on his extra point attempts, with his only miss being a blocked attempt against Michigan in Utah’s first game of the season. He is also the league’s first back-to-back team punter as 42 percent of his punts were downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He owns a 41.7 yard punt average and is a finalist for both the Lou Groza and Ray Guy awards, which honor the nation’s top place kicker and punter, respectively.

Whittingham, who is in his fourth year as the Utes head coach and No. 15 with the team in all, led Utah to its first MWC Championship in his tenure, including a perfect 12-0 season and an imminent Bowl Championship Series berth.

Whittingham is the second Utah coach to earn the award after Urban Meyer was honored in his two seasons at Utah in 2003 and 2004. Whittingham is also a candidate for several national coaching awards, including the Bryant College Coaching Award.

Fourteen Utah players were named to the all-conference team: seven players to the first team, three to the second and four to the honorable mentions list.

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Lennie Mahler

Brian Johnson received the award of MWC Offensive Player of the Year. Several of the U players received awards similar to Johnson for this year?s perfect season.