Sports x Sports: How Utah Football Can Still Make This a Successful Season


Jonathan Wang

University of Utah football running back Micah Bernard (#2) plays against USC at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Oct. 15, 2022. (Photo by Jonathan Wang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Kyle Garrison and Jake Miller


This article was a part of the collaboration print issue published Nov. 7, 2022.


Early Season Blunders

Coming into the 2022 college football season, Utah was one of the heavy favorites to repeat as Pac-12 champions. After Week One, the entire Utah faithful was fully aware of the glaring weaknesses this team faced. After Anthony Richardson single-handedly dismantled the Utah defense, many analysts and fans gave up on the Utes. As Richardson ran free all night, the absence of Devin Lloyd was very noticeable. Playing the first game of the year in the Swamp is not an easy task by any means, but with the amount of hype surrounding the Utah program going into the year, this loss stung just a little bit more than normal.

After the Utes restored some faith by stacking up multiple wins in a row, the fans were again left in shambles after a rough afternoon in Pasadena. This time around, not only did the run defense look pedestrian, but the pass defense was also nowhere to be found. Zach Charbonnet and Dorian Thompson-Robinson waltzed in and destroyed any chance for the Utes to sneak into the College Football Playoff. Charbonnet would end with 198 yards on just 22 carries, surpassing his career high. Thompson-Robinson ended with 299 yards and five total touchdowns on just 23 passing attempts.

The loss to UCLA would almost certainly eliminate the Utes from College Football Playoff contention, but that did not mean the season was a complete lost cause. The Utes were in this same scenario last year, dropping two games early on in the season and they were still able to go on and win the Pac-12. 

How Can Utah Turn it Around?

Starting the season 4-2 was a much-needed wake-up call for the Utah, heading back to Salt Lake City. Because the goals of the season completely changed after only six games, the team would have to rally together to create enough motivation to repeat as Pac-12 champions and push forward despite their early struggles.

With the departure of a leader like Lloyd, Utah needed someone to step up in a big way on either side of the ball. As undefeated USC got ready to head into Rice-Eccles, Utah was still preparing like it was the first game of the year. Going against a high-powered USC offense was a daunting task for the struggling Utah defense, but a win against the Trojans could help right the Utah ship.

Righting the Ship

Utah needed to bounce back hard. Welcoming Southern Utah University into the Rice-Eccles home opener and dismantling them in a 73-7 victory was the perfect way to build momentum heading into the tougher early season games. But the momentum did not stop there: Utah won three more straight, beating San Diego State 35-7, Arizona State 34-13 and Oregon State 42-16.

Unfortunately, the winning streak was put to a stop once the team went to the Rose Bowl to play at UCLA. The defensive weaknesses were starting to show again, and it was obvious what the team was missing: last year’s Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and 2022 NFL first-round draft pick, Lloyd. While the defense has seemed empty without him, there is still hope for the team. The offense has been incredible this year, and they have averaged over 40 points per game. So the team took it and ran, going into the USC game, knowing it was going to be a shootout, and their biggest challenge yet.

Before the Utah-USC game even started, emotions ran high. The game was dedicated to Utah’s beloved fallen teammates, Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, with the players wearing hand-painted helmets honoring them.

Utah started off the game slow on offense and went down by two scores early. Once they got that first touchdown from Micah Bernard, everything seemed to click. The rest of the game was back and forth, with each team scoring in response to the other. The ones to step up when it mattered were team captain Cam Rising and one of the top tight ends in the nation, Dalton Kincaid. The game ended with Utah scoring on 4th and goal with 48 seconds left in the game. But instead of tying the game with the extra point, head coach Kyle Whittingham decided to go for the win with the 2-point conversion. Rising ended up converting that as well, and the defense held up at the end to let the clock run out. Rising ended the game with 475 total yards and five total touchdowns, while Kincaid finished with 16 receptions for 234 yards and one touchdown.

The reactions of the players showed how important it was to win a game of such significance. Kincaid told CFB on Fox the emotions were “indescribable.”

Revenge Rising

Utah still has their eyes on the Pac-12 Championship, and it is still an attainable goal, but it will be difficult.

To make it to the championship game, Utah will likely have to win out and finish their season with only one conference loss. Oregon is undefeated in conference, and UCLA and USC are sitting at one loss each. Utah plays the Ducks on Nov. 19, and the Trojans and Bruins play each other on the same day.

The Pac-12’s tiebreakers are weird and complicated, but Utah is most likely in the title game if they can win out. Some scenarios could have them on the outside looking in, but Utah simply needs to focus on their goal of winning every single week, and they will give themselves a great chance to repeat as conference champions.


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