Utah Football Grind Out Hard Fought Victory against Arizona on the Road


Jonathan Wang

Sophomore quarterback Cam Rising attempts to break through the ASU defense at the game against Arizona State football in Salt Lake City on Oct. 16, 2021. (Photo by Jonathan Wang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Cole Bagley, Sports Editor


If this 2021 season has taught us anything, it’s that no win is guaranteed in the Pac-12 and anybody can beat anybody no matter the matchup. With that being said, while Utah did eventually grind out a 38-29 victory on a sunny afternoon in the desert, it was no easy task and took a full 60 minutes despite their inferior 1-8 opponent.

“It’s not about how pretty it looks, doing this, and having glitz and glamour going with it. It’s about getting the job done and that’s what we did here today,” Utah quarterback Cameron Rising said.

Based on their first drive, anyone would’ve predicted that Utah was prepared to run away with it. Right from the start the Utes quickly moved the chains and scored in less than five minutes. Micah Bernard and Rising were critical weapons on the drive as Bernard had 27 receiving yards and 11 rushing, while Rising had 37 through the air and an 11-yard touchdown run.

But Arizona wasn’t just going to lie down and let Utah cruise to victory. On the ensuing drive, quarterback Will Plummer quickly got his feet under him and burned the Utes on multiple occasions. This included a 43-yard touchdown run where he faked a pass, got Nephi Sewell off his feet and then walked into the end zone completely untouched.

Following a quick three-and-out by the Utes, courtesy of an inability to convert a third and 21 after a few penalties, Arizona regained possession and did whatever they pleased. Averaging roughly 7.2 yards per play, the Wildcats cruised down the field and quickly had a 14-7 lead near the end of the first quarter. 

However, there’s a reason Utah is atop of the Pac-12 South, and much of that has to do with their offense, who went right down the field and quickly answered. After a sizable gain to wide receiver Britain Covey, the O-line parted the red sea which opened up a 15-yard hole into the end zone for running back T.J. Pledger. A timely response to say the least and a tied ball game early in the second.

As play continued, both teams’ offenses suddenly came to a halt and neither team was moving the chains until the final few minutes. While the Utes defense appeared to have finally found its footing, some untimely, yet questionable personal foul calls were called on Cole Bishop and the Wildcats posted a 57-yard field goal with 1:24 left on the clock.

Insert Rising and the Utah offense. In 1:22, the Utes went right down the field behind a few excellent completions and a wild quarterback keeper where Rising head-faked his way to a first down. 

Suddenly finding themselves on the two-yard line with five seconds left on the clock, Utah made an excellent play call which resulted in a touchdown. While they initially appeared to be in a run formation, Rising changed the call and sent three receivers to the left. Right on the snap, Rising floated one to Brant Kuithe, who followed his blockers and easily fell into the end zone to give Utah a 21-17 lead at the half.

But this game was far from over. After trading field goals and Utah increasing their lead to 11 after a 17-yard pass from Rising to Dalton Kincaid in the corner of the end zone, things got interesting in the second half.

Unfortunately for the Utes, their poor special teams play reared its ugly head again and the Wildcats defense scored off a blocked punt to make it a two-point game. While Arizona would fail to convert on the two-point conversion, it still made it a one-possession game and was a completely unacceptable mistake.

“It was a simple protection error by one of our best players,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “It’s not hard, but obviously we as coaches have got to do a better job because it’s happened a couple times now. So that’s on us as coaches and it starts with me.”

But luckily for the Utes, the run game stepped up when it was needed most. Over the course of nearly eight minutes in the final quarter, Utah went 75 yards with nearly every play on the ground, including a two-yard touchdown rush by Pledger, who finished the day with 119 yards on 25 carries (4.76 average).

On the ensuing Arizona drive, Utah refused to give up anything and the Wildcats would turn the ball over on downs, leading to a victory formation by the Utes and a hard fought 38-29 win in Tucson. 

“That’s what you call winning ugly,” Whittingham said. “You’ve got to do that once in a while and when you’re a good team you’ll do that. You’ll win the ugly ones.” 

With the victory, Utah improves to 7-3 overall and 6-1 in the Pac-12, still in full control of the South Division. The Utes will now return home to face their greatest test of the season against the No. 3 Oregon Ducks at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Nov. 20 with the kick-off and TV network TBD.


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