SALT LAKE CITY -- No. 22 Utah didn't do much to back up its first national ranking in four years in the first half against UNLV.
The Utes went from bumbling to looking something like the BCS Busters of 2004, scoring 35 straight points and holding the Rebels to 83 yards of offense in the second half of a 42-21 win on Saturday night.
Utah also avenged a 27-0 last year in Las Vegas, but more importantly avoided an upset that would have ended any hopes of getting back to the Bowl Championship Series this year.
"We all remember what happened last year in Vegas but we tried to make this more about us than about them," said Brian Johnson, who threw for two touchdowns for the Utes and ran 56 yards for another score. "We just wanted to come and demonstrate the way we know how to play football."
The Utes (2-0, 1-0 Mountain West Conference) scored three touchdowns in the third quarter and pulled away after a shaky first half, holding the Rebels (1-1, 0-1) to 11 yards of offense in the third period.
UNLV's Frank Summers ran for 82 yards in the first half, but the Utes stymied the big back in the second and he finished with 87 yards on 23 carries, gaining five yards on five attempts in the second half.
"I don't know if they changed the schemes or anything. It was just night and day between the first half and the second half for us," said Summers, who ran for 190 yards against the Utes last year. "No excuses. Hats off to the Utes. They played a great second half."
It was the opposite of Utah's season opener against Michigan, when the Utes played a great first half and just well enough in the second to win 25-23. Utah seemed to pick up right where it left off in Ann Arbor, then regrouped after sputtering through the first half and dominated the Rebels in the second.
"After that start, our coaches jumped down our throat a little bit and it worked because we woke up and found ourselves," defensive end Paul Kruger said. "We came out with the energy and the fight we needed in the second half. We were flying around and made the plays we should have been making in the first half."
The Rebels fell to 2-12 against Utah and have never won consecutive games in the series.
Johnson finished 15-for-24 for 183 yards despite completing just one of his first five passes. Running back Matt Asiata added a 32-yard touchdown pass and ran for his first career TD, tying it at 14-14 with 52 seconds left in the second quarter.
"I don't know why it took us to wake up until the second half offensively," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We were fortunate to be tied at halftime."
Omar Clayton was 19-for-30 for 159 yards and a touchdown and Summers scored twice in the first half. But by the time the Rebels scored again, Utah had already taken a 42-14 lead and was just wrapping up another victory against the Rebels.
"I think in the second half we resorted to some of our old habits," said UNLV coach Mike Sanford, Utah's offensive coordinator four years ago.
David Reed opened the second half with a 49-yard kickoff return, which only UNLV kicker Ben Jaekle saved from being a touchdown, and the Utes scored on a 32-yard pass from Johnson to Freddie Brown. Utah got the ball back four plays later and John Peel returned a punt 25 yards to the UNLV 26-yard line, setting up a 15-yard touchdown run by Reed on a reverse to give Utah a 28-14 lead with 8:45 left in the third.
The Utes opened their third drive of the period at their own 41 and went the distance again, scoring on Johnson's 8-yard pass to Colt Sampson with 3:20 left in the quarter.
Utah gained only 28 yards in the second half at Michigan in the season opener the week before, but didn't get conservative with a big lead this time. Already up 34-14, Asiata lined up at quarterback early in the fourth and threw a perfect pass to Jereme Brooks for a 32-yard touchdown.
"I didn't think we were going to run that play. It kind of came out of nowhere and I didn't even get a chance to warm up," Asiata said. "I was a little scared. It is my first touchdown pass ever at any level of football. I didn't know I could throw it that well."
Johnson took a broken play up the middle for his longest career run and tied the game at 7-7 with 8:08 left in the half. Rusty Worthen nearly had the sack for UNLV, but Johnson broke free of the tackle and had nobody in between him and the end zone.
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