posted on Sep, 3 2004 @ 08:35 AM
Alex Smith threw for three touchdowns, rushed for two more and finished with 435 yards of offense, and No. 20 Utah backed up its first preseason
ranking with a 41-21 win over Texas A&M on Thursday night.
Smith threw for a personal-best 359 yards in the opener for both teams, in a game that had the look of a Utah rout from early-on.
The Utes led 7-0 barely a minute into the game and celebrated "Utah Day" - as Thursday was dubbed by local officials - by avenging their only
non-conference loss of last season.
Smith had trouble with his accuracy early, but adjusted and completed 21 of 29 passes and topped his 340-yard passing performance last year against
Oregon. He also ran 13 times for 76 yards.
The Aggies, who last season lost their last three games and five of their last six, continued to struggle on defense. Utah finished with 582 yards of
offense and scored five touchdowns on defensive blunders in which the Utes were all but untouched on their way into the end zone.
A&M's Reggie McNeal ran for two touchdowns, including a 59-yarder late in the second quarter, but he struggled with his passing.
The Aggies used 14 freshman in their first season-opening loss in four years. The last time A&M opened with a loss was also the last time they started
the season on the road, a 24-10 loss at Notre Dame in 2000.
And Utah was not an ideal opponent for a team that went 0-5 last season away from Kyle Field. The Utes lost to the Aggies 28-26 a year ago when a
two-point conversion attempt failed in the final seconds. There wasn't talk of revenge as the game approached, but the Utes certainly felt vindicated
after winning in front of a sellout crowd of 45,419.
Smith appeared a little anxious. He overthrew three receivers who had a stride or two on their defenders on plays that could have resulted in
touchdowns in the first half, when Utah led 27-7. And Utah receivers dropped at least three passes that were in their hands.
Smith also made an errant option pitch behind Johnson, who recovered the ball for a 20-yard loss. But with the way A&M's defense was struggling, the
Utes could afford some mistakes.
Steve Savoy caught a short pass over the middle and turned it into a 78-yard touchdown just 1:13 into the first quarter, then scored easily on an
end-around from 9 yards to start the second quarter.
Smith ran through a wide hole up the middle for a 7-yard TD and had a 38-yard scoring pass to John Madsen, who didn't have an A&M player within 10
yards when he pulled down the pass and trotted down the sideline. Smith also scored on a 37-yard run through a wide-open middle.
Marty Johnson, playing for the first time in two years because of injuries and a one-year suspension for drunken driving, gained 77 yards on 20
carries for the Utes.