Utah finds redemption, takes down UCLA 30-28


On one of the craziest nights of college football in recent memory, the Utes rolled into the Rose Bowl and finished off the Saturday madness with a 30-28 upset win against No. 8 UCLA. Following the victory, Utah’s ranking in the AP Top 25 Poll jumped to No. 24.
The scoring started when senior safety Tevin Carter intercepted a Brett Hundley pass and returned it 27 yards for the defensive touchdown.
After another ineffective start by junior quarterback Travis Wilson, fellow junior Kendal Thompson relieved the Utes’ starter and hurled a 42-yard pass to senior receiver Dres Anderson, who snatched the ball from between two Bruin defenders for the explosive touchdown play.
A 48-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Andy Phillips gave the Utes a 17-7 lead heading into the halftime break.
The Bruins came out reinvigorated in the third quarter and cut the lead to three with a one yard Eddie Vanderdoes touchdown run with 5:45 remaining in the third quarter.
The Utes answered with a six-yard touchdown run by junior running back Devontae Booker to put the lead back to 10 points heading into the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, the usually stringent Utah defense had a momentary lapse that cost them dearly. Hundley found a wide open Devin Fuller down the sideline, who then trotted 93 yards into the end zone after evading a lone Utah tackler to make the score 24-21 in favor of the Utes.
With 6:21 remaining in the game, the Utah offense got in range for another Phillips field goal attempt. Phillips slotted in the 45-yard attempt, and the Utes increased their lead to 27-21, a score that created an eerie sense of déjà vu among the Utah fans in attendance who had watched the Utes lose to Washington State 28-27 a week prior.
Less than two minutes later, UCLA recreated that very score line when Hundley found Eldridge Massington for a 40-yard touchdown pass to give UCLA their first lead of the game.
With less than five minutes left in the game, Thompson led his Utah offense down the field and gave Phillips a chance to kick the go-ahead field goal late in the final quarter. With 34 seconds on the clock, Phillips knocked in the 29-yard attempt and put the Utes up 30-28.
The Bruins, however, would not go down without a fight. Hundley completed two passes to receiver Jordan Payton and one to Fuller to put his team in a position to kick the winning field goal in front of over 70,000 Bruins fans in the Rose Bowl.
UCLA kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 55-yard field goal attempt was tipped at the line of scrimmage, but the Bruins were given a second chance at the game winner after the referees called a controversial running into the kicker penalty on the Utes.
But it was the Utes who would get the last laugh as Fairbairn’s 50-yard attempt fell wide of the right post and Utah completed its fourth Pac-12 road win in program history.
The Utes followed up their 192-yard rushing performance against Washington State with a 263-yard rushing game against the Bruins, featuring the tough running of Booker (156 yards) and the mobility of Thompson outside of the pocket (83 yards). On a day when the receivers struggled to greatly aid the offense (100 yards on 12 receptions), the gritty Utah running game came up big for the Utes.
“I’m very proud of our guys,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “That was a gutsy performance. For our guys to bounce back after a disappointment like last week and to play with the resolve and the determination they did this week really speaks to their character.”
On a Saturday when three of the top 10 ranked teams in the country had already been upset, Whittingham said his team was paying attention to what was going on in the realm of college football and that they went into this game with the mindset to keep the upsets flowing.
“We had a chance to be right in that same conversation,” Whittingham said. “The players, they knew it. I didn’t have to tell them, they knew all the upsets that were going on, and we went out and slayed us another giant.”
Thompson not only slew the giant that was the eighth-ranked Bruins, he slew his own personal giant by taking the field in the first quarter and making what was once a stagnant offense effective again. Thompson said he wasn’t sure when he was going to enter the game but that he was confident he could give the Utes’ offense a spark.
“I didn’t know when, but just depending on how the game goes, Coach kind of uses me to switch things up,” Thompson said. “The way today went, our line was getting a good push up front in the run game, and so I think that was kind of the factor that went into [Whittingham’s decision].”
As a transfer student from the University of Oklahoma, Thompson wasn’t given a shot by most to overtake the already established Travis Wilson after the first couple games of the season. Despite this, he continued to prepare himself for his chance, which paid off Saturday night in Pasadena.
“It feels good. I just continue to prepare myself every day like I was the starter, and that’s something I learned growing up,” Thompson said. “Being a competitor, things are going to go that way, some things don’t always go your way, but I stayed ready, and when my time came I was ready.”
The Utah defense had an incredible night, tallying 10 sacks (the most since 1983) and 13 tackles for loss. The strong defensive performance was led by senior defensive end and defensive captain Nate Orchard who finished with 4 sacks and a career high 11 tackles (4 tackles for loss). Coming off of a game where the Utah defense couldn’t get to the quarterback in the second half against Washington State, Orchard was proud of the way his front seven bounced back against the daunting Bruins.
“Last week we kind of struggled to [pressure the quarterback] but it was definitely redemption for us to kind of step up and prove to the nation that as a defensive line we really want to lead the nation in sacks,” Orchard said.
For a player who has been a part of a lot of highs and lows since he joined the Utes back in 2011, Orchard put this latest victory near the top of his list considering the circumstances.
“To come into the Rose Bowl and get a huge win like that, nothing beats that,” Orchard said. “Now we go into a bye week, do a little bit of chillaxing, coach will give us some time off hopefully and let us recover for Oregon State.”
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