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August 31, 2008

Healthy playmakers key for Utah offense

RELATED: Michigan running game a disappoinment

ANN ARBOR, Mich. To say Utah's 2008 opener was the opposite of 2007 would be an understatement.

In last season's opener against Oregon State, quarterback Brian Johnson injured his shoulder and running back Matt Asiata was lost for the year with a broken leg. Utah also lost, dashing any long-shot hopes for another BCS bid.

A week later, the Utes lost standout wide receiver Brent Casteel for the season with a torn ACL.

All three were back against Michigan on Saturday, giving Utah added talent and versatility. Johnson passed for 305 yards and a touchdown, doing most of his damage in the first half, which ended with Utah leading 22-10. As they once did with star defensive back Eric Weddle, the Utes lined up Asiata at quarterback for several plays. He bulled through the Michigan defense for 77 yards and added a 39-yard reception. Casteel finished the day with five catches for 49 yards.

Utah also experimented with Nevada's "pistol" offense with some success. Backup quarterback Corbin Louks ran the first pistol play of the game, an 8-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter.

"We really missed those guys last year," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Having them all back 100 percent is huge for our football team."

The victory over Michigan puts the target on Utah's back for the rest of the season, but the Utes know not to let such a big victory go to their heads. Utah defeated UCLA 44-6 early last season before losing to woeful UNLV 27-0 the following week.

"We haven't won a (Mountain West) title in three years," Whittingham said. "That's too long. That's our primary team goal."

RELATED: Michigan running game a disappoinment

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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