Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009 | 3:16 a.m.
For three quarters, coach Kyle Whittingham watched his long-formidable Utah Utes springing holes and leaks at practically every position. He couldn't even relax until his third-string tailback made a rambling run deep into San Jose State territory with less than 2 minutes to play.
Although the Utes' 16-game winning streak is still intact after a 24-14 victory Saturday night, their impeccable run is looking increasingly difficult to maintain — and it'll be a whole lot tougher to stay perfect next week at Oregon.
Terrance Cain passed for 248 yards and hit Jereme Brooks for a go-ahead 51-yard score early in the fourth quarter, and No. 17 Utah finally shook free of San Jose State in the final minutes of a frustrating evening for Whittingham.
"We've got our fair share of deficiencies to work on in practice," Whittingham said. "You name it, we've got to work on it for next week. ... We're miles away from having all the answers."
Matt Asiata rushed for 94 yards and an early score before leaving with a shoulder injury as the Utes (2-0) persevered until three fourth-quarter scoring drives kept alive the longest winning streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Utah racked up 499 total yards, but repeatedly failed to finish its drives until the final minutes.
As their inconsistent effort showed, the Utes are still figuring out how to replace several key components of the team that finished last season unbeaten and ranked No. 2 after routing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. They'll need a much better effort next weekend in Eugene if they hope to keep alive the second-longest streak in school history, along with any dreams of a third BCS-busting season in six years.
The Utes have matched the school's winning streak from 1928-30, and they trail only the 18 straight wins surrounding Utah's undefeated run to a Fiesta Bowl victory with coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Alex Smith from 2003-05.
"We don't pay a lot of attention to (streaks)," Whittingham said. "Each year is a new year, and we've got to get a lot better between now and Saturday if we want to even have a chance."
Eddie Wide rushed for a 15-yard TD to put Utah ahead 21-7 with 9:03 to play, but the Spartans drove 77 yards for LaSecla's 1-yard TD pass to Marquis Avery 4 minutes later. Utah made one last lengthy drive, essentially putting it away on Sausan Shakerin's 46-yard run to inside the San Jose State 5 with 1:55 to play.
"We could have played better," said Cain, who also rushed for 69 yards. "I just made too many mistakes, but you can't get frustrated and lose your composure. I'm looking forward to next week. I'll learn from my mistakes and keep working, because every day counts."
The Utes lost two fumbles, missed two field goals and turned the ball over on downs at the San Jose State 1 in the first half. The Spartans got a 2-yard TD run early in the second quarter by Brandon Rutley, who sprained his ankle on the play and didn't return.
Jordan LaSecla passed for 269 yards while playing the final three quarters as the Spartans (0-2) put a scare into an elite opponent one week after a 56-3 thrashing at USC. Kevin Jurovich had eight catches for 146 yards for the Spartans, who repeatedly picked on the Utes' undersized cornerbacks for long gains in man-to-man coverage.
"It's improvement, but it's not where we want to be at this point in the season," said Spartans coach Dick Tomey, whose team rushed for just 22 yards. "The last two weeks, we played two of the best run-defense teams in the nation. That will be good for us in the long run."
Utah's frustrations were encapsulated on the San Jose State 1 with 2 minutes left in the first half. Asiata took a direct snap and surprised everybody by throwing to Cain, left unmarked in the end zone on fourth down — but Asiata's pass was well over Cain's head.
The large, red-clad Utah fan contingent at Spartan Stadium grew nervously silent after the third missed field goal early in the third quarter by Ben Vroman, who isn't looking like much of a replacement for All-American kicker Louie Sakoda.
The Utes finally broke through when Cain stared down a blitz and connected across the middle with Brooks, who made an outstanding run through traffic to the end zone with 13:44 to play.
After Shakerin's rambling run, junior college transfer Joe Phillips relieved Vroman and hit a 25-yard field goal with 13 seconds to play.
When San Jose State had the ball, two brothers faced each other on the line: Spartans guard Ailao Eliapo frequently had to block his older brother, Utah nose tackle Kenape Eliapo. Several dozen friends and family members wore T-shirts to the game reading, "Eliapo Brothers Battle!"