The University of Utah Utes' return to Sam Boyd stadium Saturday served as a reminder of how much the team has accomplished in the past two years, and of how difficult it is to maintain their current level of success.
I was in Vegas to witness the nightmarish debacle two years ago when the Utes were shut out by the Rebels 27-0, and it was the worst experience I've ever had as a Ute fan. However, Ute coaches and players have talked about that game as an eye-opening experience, one that made them vow never to come to any game unprepared. Since that day, the Utes have gone 25-2.
Yesterday the Utes handled the Rebels pretty well and won the game 35-15, with most of those points coming in the second quarter. The Utes ended up with 327 yards total offense, the same as the Rebels, mainly because the Utes were penalized 10 times for a frustrating 110 yards. Free safety Robert Johnson (pictured), last week's MWC defensive player of the week, had another outstanding game, intercepting one pass to set up a Utes second-quarter touchdown, then grabbing a ball that was fumbled in the air following an interception by Christian Cox and running 70 yards for another touchdown just before halftime.
Like they did last year, this year the Utes have demonstrated the ability to hang on and win despite setbacks and imperfections. On the strength of their win Saturday and with some key losses by top teams, the Utes rose to number 19 in today's AP poll and number 18 in the BCS standings.
Photo: Utes free safety Robert Johnson. Courtesy of University of Utah Athletic Department.