From fan to foe, Clay shows up on big stage

From+fan+to+foe%2C+Clay+shows+up+on+big+stage

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Kaelin Clay’s college football career has been filled with some frustration. On Saturday night, all of it may have been worth it.

With eight seconds remaining in the contest, Clay secured the game-winning touchdown in the Utes’ 24-21 victory over No. 20 USC. Game winners are always special, but this will be one to remember for Clay.

“I grew up a USC fan,” Clay said. “I’m a SoCal kid, so to catch a game-winning touchdown against them — it’s crazy.”

Things haven’t gone as planned for Clay since signing with California out of high school in 2009. Injuries plagued his Golden Bears career before it ever got started, but after a stop at junior college, Clay is making a name for himself on one of college football’s biggest stages.

The speedy return man/receiver has electrified crowds with his return ability — which was on display against the Trojans on a 51-yard return to the USC 16 — but late in the game, his number was called to receive the final pass.

“I knew it was coming to me, right away,” Clay said of the game-winning play. “We’ve been running in practice since fall, and the play design was set up for me to get the ball. And executed it perfect … It’s been a crazy season for me, and everything that’s been happening is awesome.”

Bowl bound

With the victory over USC, the Utes became bowl eligible for the first time since 2011. Bowl eligibility was one of the goals Utah came into the season looking to accomplish, and they met it with five games to spare.

Utah has a grueling schedule ahead that features games against No. 14 Arizona, No. 5 Oregon and No. 15 Arizona State in the next four weeks, but a 3-1 Pac-12 start has put Utah in contention for the Pac-12 South, a Pac-12 Championship and maybe even a College Football Playoff berth if they can win out.

“I don’t think any players on this team are just happy, just content with being bowl eligible,” said quarterback Travis Wilson. “I think this team has something special and we really just want to prove it.”

The Utes will have ample opportunity to prove it with their upcoming schedule.

Drops turn to fumbles

In the three contests leading up the games against the Trojans, the Utah receiving corps has been under scrutiny, as drops have been a key factor to the Utes’ passing game troubles. Saturday night against USC, the drops seemed to be a thing of the past as Westlee Tonga, Dres Anderson, Kenneth Scott, Tim Patrick and Kaelin Clay were able to secure big passes to help move Utah down the field.

“No one has been more frustrated than those guys,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham of his receivers. “They worked hard every day in practice, before practice, after practice, working on catching the football. It showed up tonight. We’ve always believed in them. You saw we came out throwing tonight. It’s because we have confidence in them, and they came up big.”

Tonga led the Utah receivers with six catches for a career-high 71 yards, while Anderson and Scott both made key catches on the Utes’ final game-winning drive to help set up Clay’s game-winning catch.

The Utes seemed to have solved their drops problem against the Trojans, but a new trouble may be arising.

The Utah offense fumbled the ball four times in the game and lost two of those. More troubling is where those lost fumbles occurred. Running back Devontae Booker and receiver Tim Patrick both fumbled on the USC one-yard line, halting potential Utah touchdown drives.

“It could have been a whole different game,” Whittingham said of the fumbles. “We could have had a bigger lead. You can’t turn the ball over on the one-yard line twice and come away nothing.”

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