No. 7 Utah Football Suffers Devastating Season-Opener at Florida

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Curtis Lin

The University of Utah’s football team storm onto the field in an NCAA football game vs. BYU at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday Nov. 24, 2018.(Photo by Curtis Lin | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Sean Overton, Sports Writer

 

University of Utah Football opened their season today, playing the University of Florida on the road. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, more popularly known as “The Swamp,” is a notoriously difficult stadium for opposing teams to play in.

Anticipation for the game was high, and Utah quarterback Cameron Rising was ready for the challenge. “It’s going to be rowdy for sure,” he said to Deseret News. “They’re going to be there in in full force. We’ve been preparing for it.”

Utah’s preparation paid off early, with them forcing a fumble on Florida’s first drive. Jonah Elliss forced the fumble, and R.J. Hubert recovered and returned it to Florida’s 25-yard line. Rising found Brant Kuithe in the endzone to give Utah the early lead.

All of a sudden, the momentum swung in Utah’s favor. But this didn’t last long as Utah suffered a quick 3-and-out. Utah struggled defensively on the next drive, missing multiple tackles and allowing the Gators to convert a 3rd and 15.

Florida continued to drive down the field, converting a 4th and 2 and finding the endzone to tie the game.

Utah rallied back and had a 50-yard drive that resulted in a 43-yard field goal by Jordan Noyes. Tavion Thomas had a large role in this drive, with five runs and 22 yards.

Utah once again stopped Florida, fighting back to get another field goal and the 13-7 lead. But they left enough time on the clock for the Gators to rally for a touchdown, highlighted by a 45-yard touchdown run from Anthony Richardson.

Utah held a solid lead throughout the first half but were unable to hold on and trailed the Gators 13-14 at the half.

The Utes came out of halftime looking energized, rushing on their first six plays for 47 yards. Thomas was unable to find the endzone on 2nd and goal after he slipped, and came short again on fourth down.

Utah stopped Florida and fought back to retake the lead near the end of the third quarter. Micah Bernard got a pitch from Rising to score the seven-yard touchdown. Utah tried a two-point conversion that was unsuccessful, ending in a fumble.

Utah held a small 19-14 lead heading into the final quarter. But this lead wouldn’t last long, as the Gators quickly marched down the field to gain the lead. They completed the two-point conversion to take the 22-19 advantage over the Utes.

But once again this was a back and forth battle. Utah fought right back to charge down the field, capping it off with a four-yard touchdown rush by Thomas. This put them at a 26-22 lead late in the game, putting Florida just out of field goal range.

But the versatility of Florida’s quarterback, Richardson, was too much for Utah’s defense to handle. He managed to get into the endzone late in the fourth, his third rushing touchdown of the night.

Utah marched down the field, looking in good position to win the game. But Rising threw his first interception of the night with 17 seconds left on the clock. Florida was able to kneel the game out as Utah lost 26-29 in a heartbreaking game for the Utes.

Despite the loss, Utah played their hearts out. It was a rough season opener for the Utes, and may potentially have a large impact on their rank throughout the season and postseason hopes.

Utah will be right back at it next week as they take on Southern Utah University at home. The two teams have only met once in the past, with a 24-0 win for Utah.

 

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@SeanOverton3