Quinton Ganther ran for 127 yards and took a shovel pass from Johnson 47 yards for Utah's first touchdown of the season. Brent Casteel had a 59-yard touchdown run in his first college game, and Eric Weddle returned an interception 24 yards for a score for Utah, which won its fifth straight season opener.
Nobody was quite sure what to expect this year from the Utes, who are coming off a 12-0 season and missing many of the key players and coaches from a year ago.
Johnson replaced Alex Smith, the Heisman Trophy finalist and top overall pick in the NFL draft. The 18-year-old sophomore survived a difficult first quarter and some early nervousness, leading the Utes (1-0) to 446 yards of offense.
Johnson overthrew a couple of receivers on plays he could have run with it and fumbled a snap in the first quarter, but looked more composed as the game progressed.
Whittingham coached his first game after spending the last 11 seasons as a Utah assistant. He was promoted from defensive coordinator after Urban Meyer took the coaching job at Florida.
Whittingham got to celebrate the victory, but not without some anxious moments near the end. Utah led 27-10 after scoring 17 points in the third quarter, but allowed Arizona a couple of chances in the final minutes.
Ganther had runs of 18 and 27 yards as the Utes tried to run time off the clock, but Arizona forced the Utes to punt with 34 seconds left.
The Utes got the punt off and downed it at the 9, and Casey Evans sealed the win for Utah with an interception with about 5 seconds left.
Richard Kovalcheck completed 21 of 37 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns, and Mike Bell ran for 99 yards on 18 carries for the Wildcats, who never quite recovered from allowing 17 straight points.
Arizona came out in the third quarter, drove 80 yards and scored on a 13-yard pass from Kovalcheck to Michael Thomas, tying the game at 10-all. But it took Utah just three plays to regain the lead as Casteel took a run around the right end, cut back across the middle and went 59 yards for a touchdown.
After Weddle forced a fumble that Utah recovered at the Arizona 48, Dan Beardall kicked a 45-yard field goal to put Utah up 20-10 with 8:44 left in the third quarter. Weddle scored for Utah with 3:46 left in the third, pulling down Kovalcheck's pass and running untouched into the end zone.
The Wildcats rallied again and Gilbert Harris scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to get Arizona to 27-24 with 9:23 left to play. The Utes stacked Harris up at the line, but he kept driving his legs and got the ball in for the score.
UA starting defensive end Copeland Bryan injured an ankle on one of the game's first series and did not return to action... True freshman Mike Thomas' debut at wide receiver compared favorably to the top two receiving leaders in Arizona history. Bobby Wade had two catches for 12 yards in his first game as a Wildcat, at Penn State in 1999. In his four years he had 230 grabs to take the No. 1 spot on Arizona's chart, ahead of Dennis Northcutt at 223. Northcutt opened his career in 1996 at Arizona as a cornerback and was switched to wide receiver four games later. He had one catch for 14 yards against Washington State to start his total. Then true freshman Vance Johnson, a running back, had six receptions for 96 yards in his debut game against UCLA in 1981...