Sep 9, 2023; Waco, Texas, USA; Utah Utes defensive tackle Keanu Tanuvasa (57) tackles Baylor Bears running back Richard Reese (29) during the second half at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

No. 22 UCLA looking to dent No. 11 Utah’s defense

With starting quarterback Cameron Rising sidelined as he continues to recover from a torn ACL, No. 11 Utah has had to rely on its defense through the first three weeks of the season.

That unit has held its own so far, but it will face its biggest challenge Saturday when the Utes face No. 22 UCLA in Salt Lake City in the Pac-12 opener for both teams.

Utah (3-0) ranks 17th in total defense in the FBS — an average of 270.7 yards allowed per game — after a suffocating performance in last weekend’s 31-7 victory over Weber State. The Utes held the Wildcats to 127 yards of total offense while coming away with a pair of turnovers.

“We got a lot of confidence in that defense, and they’ve performed very well through three games,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We know that we’re not gonna have to score … 40 points to win.

“The defense has done a nice job of keeping teams out of the end zone and points off the board.”

But now the Utes will be tasked with slowing a high-octane Bruins offense that just racked 614 total yards in a 59-7 drubbing of North Carolina Central last Saturday.

The Bruins (3-0) got a pair of touchdowns and 182 yards on 8-of-12 passing from Dante Moore, but they did most of their damage on the ground, as five players rushed for at least 60 yards and a score. Anthony Adkins led the pack with 96 yards on 10 carries.

UCLA will look to replicate that performance as it attempts to win at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first time since 2015.

“Rice-Eccles is a difficult venue. They got a great home-crowd advantage,” Bruins coach Chip Kelly said. “I think winning on the road in the Pac-12 is difficult anywhere.

“But I think the crowd in Utah is awesome. They have great support for their football program, and they’re a really good team and they’re really well-coached.”

If Rising is able to make his season debut, that atmosphere will be even more intense, but if he doesn’t, Nate Johnson will be under center. Johnson got his first collegiate start against Weber State, completing 13 of 21 passes for 193 yards and a TD. He also rushed for a team-high 71 yards and a score.

Kelly knows his team has to be prepared for whatever Utah throws its way.

“There’s probably a little bit more quarterback-driven run when Nate’s in there, but that doesn’t mean Cam can’t. Cam’s beaten a lot of teams with his legs too,” Kelly said. “Their offense is their offense; you gotta prepare for it all.”

Whittingham hopes his team can stay on an even keel as conference play begins.

“Every week’s the same to me. Every game counts the same, every game is darn important,” Whittingham said. “I think that’s been one of our strengths through the years, is to not get on the roller coaster, just be at a high level every week and prepare the same way.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 16, 2023; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes running back Ja'Quinden Jackson (3) runs against Weber State Wildcats cornerback Jalon Rock (23) in the second half at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

No. 12 Utah stifles Weber State, 31-7

Nate Johnson racked up 264 combined yards and accounted for two touchdowns in his first start at quarterback to lead No. 12 Utah past visiting Weber State, 31-7 on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Johnson, a redshirt freshman, filling in for the injured Cam Rising, connected on 13 of 21 passes for 193 yards and a TD, while rushing 16 times for 71 yards and another score.

Utah improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2019 after limiting Weber State (2-1) to 127 total yards. The Utes gained 424 yards on offense against the FCS foe.

Johnson put Utah up 7-0 in the first quarter on a 1-yard rush.

Kicker Joey Cheek added to the score with his first career field goal from 37 yards out at 13:29 of the second quarter.

Weber State trimmed the margin to 10-7 with a 3-yard touchdown plunge by Kris Jackson at 10:46 before halftime. The Wildcats’ only score of the game was set up by a 47-yard run by Damon Bankston.

Johnson helped Utah take a 17-7 lead by hooking up with Money Parks for a 13-yard touchdown reception with 5:00 left in the half.

The Utes dominated the second half, limiting Weber State to 28 yards.

Jaylon Glover gave Utah a 24-7 lead with a 2-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter.

Lander Barton capped the scoring with a 23-yard interception return for the Utes. That play gave Utah a pick-six in its 20th straight season, extending the longest active streak in the FBS.

Weber State quarterback Kylan Weisser completed 11 of 23 passes for 66 yards.

Ja’Quinden Jackson rushed nine times for 69 yards and Glover finished with 47 yards rushing on 12 carries for Utah.

The Utes begin their Pac-12 schedule against UCLA next Saturday, when it’s possible that Rising could make his first appearance since undergoing offseason knee surgery.

–Field Level Media

Sep 9, 2023; Waco, Texas, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Nate Johnson (13) carries the ball against the Baylor Bears during the second half at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

No. 12 Utah makes QB change for Weber State game

It’s still uncertain when injured Cam Rising will return for Utah, but the No. 12 Utes would have a new starting quarterback regardless on Saturday when they host unbeaten Weber State in Salt Lake City.

After leading Utah to a 20-13 win in the Texas heat at Baylor last Saturday, freshman Nate Johnson has been promoted to the QB1 position for the final non-conference game if, as expected, Rising is unable to go.

Johnson would replace previous starter Bryson Barnes, who filled in for Rising until being replaced midway through the comeback win over the Bears.

Johnson helped the Utes (2-0) turn a one-touchdown deficit at the beginning of the fourth quarter into a second win over an FBS team, finishing with 82 yards on 6-of-7 passing, a game-tying touchdown keeper and 32 yards on 11 rushes.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham announced Monday that Johnson will take over while Rising continues to work his way back from offseason knee surgery.

“I would say based on the whole body of work that we’ve seen, Nate deserves the chance. He’ll be the starter if Cam’s not available,” Whittingham said. “That’s where we’re at, that’s after a lot of evaluation and giving everybody the opportunity to show what they can do. Nate was very poised on that last drive. I think he made some outstanding decisions, outstanding plays.”

Utah trailed 13-6 midway through the fourth quarter in Waco, Texas, when Johnson led the squad on a 15-play, 85-yard drive to tie the game 13-13 on a 7-yard keeper with 1:59 left. The Utes went ahead 20-13 on an 11-yard run by Jaylon Glover after Cole Bishop intercepted a Baylor pass.

Ja’Quinden Jackson also made a strong impression against Baylor, rushing for a career-high 129 yards on 19 carries.

However, Utah will be without No. 2 running back Micah Bernard, who is out for the season due to an unspecified injury.

Weber State (2-0) enters this in-state game as the seventh-ranked FCS team in the AFCA Coaches Poll. The Wildcats won 34-17 at Northern Iowa on Saturday by compiling 390 yards of offense and creating six turnovers.

Damon Bankston (144 yards rushing, three touchdowns) and Jack Kelly (four tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, one tipped pass) earned Big Sky Conference Player of the Week awards for their performances against Northern Iowa.

Utah has won the previous six meetings against Weber State, including 40-17 in 2021.

“They are who they are, and they don’t shy away from that, no matter who the quarterback is, what guys they have banged up. I think that’s a true testament of a great program,” Weber State coach Mickey Mental said of Utah. “Obviously, Coach Whitt and his staff recruit to who they are. They win physically, violent, and run the football and play really good defense and special teams. It will be a really great test for us.”

Utah, which has wins over Florida and Baylor so far, will begin its Pac-12 schedule next week vs. No. 24 UCLA.

“Still trying to get guys healthy; that’s an ongoing challenge,” Whittingham said. “But we’re in pretty good position right now after two (Power 5) games of coming away with two victories and ready to move on.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 9, 2023; Waco, Texas, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Nate Johnson (13) carries the ball for a 11-yard touchdown against the Baylor Bears during the second half at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Utah QB Nate Johnson to start if Cam Rising can’t go

Freshman quarterback Nate Johnson will start for No. 12 Utah against visiting Weber State this Saturday if Cam Rising remains sidelined.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham confirmed his plan Monday for the Utes (2-0), who are coming off victories against Florida and Baylor.

Johnson was instrumental to Utah’s success Saturday at Baylor, rescuing a struggling offense with two late drives to clinch a 20-13 win in Waco, Texas.

“Based on the whole body of work we’ve seen, we feel Nate is deserving of the shot and he’ll be the starter if Cam’s not available,” Whittingham said.

Johnson rallied Utah with a rushing touchdown to tie the game and a late TD drive to secure the victory.

“We really couldn’t get anything going so to speak offensively until the last stages of the game,” Whittingham said.

“That spark occurred in the last two minutes, well, actually before that, about 11 minutes to go in the game we took over, made the decision to put Nate Johnson in and give him the opportunity to show what he can do, you know, without any limitations the entire drive and he did a great job.”

Johnson hit 6 of 7 passes for 82 yards and rushed 11 times for 32 yards. Starter Bryson Barnes finished 6-of-19 passing for 71 yards with one interception.

“He was very poised on that last drive,” Whittingham said of Johnson. “I mean he made some outstanding decisions and made some great plays in that fourth quarter.”

Whittingham said Rising, who injured his knee in January’s Rose Bowl, is practicing without limitations but has not been cleared.

Utah opens its Pac-12 schedule on Sept. 23 at home against No. 24 UCLA.

–Field Level Media

Sep 9, 2023; Waco, Texas, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Bryson Barnes (16) stands in the pocket against the Baylor Bears during the first half at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Late TD, defense lift No. 12 Utah over Baylor

Jaylon Glover ran 11 yards for a touchdown with 17 seconds remaining to lift visiting No. 12 Utah to a stirring 20-13 win over Baylor on Saturday afternoon in searing conditions in Waco, Texas.

Utah’s Nate Johnson rushed seven yards on a keeper at the end of a 15-play, 88-yard drive to tie the game at 13-13 with 1:59 to play in regulation. The march used 8:02 of the fourth quarter but gave the Bears another chance to win the game.

That plan went awry when Baylor quarterback Sawyer Robertson uncorked a pass under duress that was intercepted by the Utes’ Cole Bishop at the Baylor 29 with 1:35 remaining. Utah ran five snaps — one of them a 22-yard TD that was called back because of a holding call — before Glover scored the game-winner to rescue the Utes.

Ja’Quinden Jackson ran for 129 yards on 19 carries for Utah (2-0) while the Utes’ two quarterbacks, Johnson and Byron Barnes, passed for a combined 153 yards.

Robertson finished with 218 yards passing and two interceptions. Baylor (0-2) made a spirited attempt to tie the game late, but Robertson’s pass into the end zone fell incomplete as time expired.

Dominic Richardson finished with 77 yards rushing on 14 carries in the loss, The Bears have now dropped six straight games over two seasons.

After a scoreless opening period, the Bears got on the board via a 34-yard field goal by Isaiah Hankins at the 13:03 mark of the second quarter. The Utes answered on their ensuing possession, driving 62 yards on seven snaps en route to Cole Becker’s 31-yard field goal with 9:04 to play in the first half.

Baylor retook the lead on Robertson’s 4-yard keeper around left end at the end of an 11-play, 79-yard drive with 3:23 to play until halftime.

The Bears outgained Utah 222-153 in the first half, with the bulk of that majority built through the air (126-65).

Hankins added to the Baylor lead with a 24-yard field goal on the Bears’ first drive of the third quarter to culminate a 10-play, 68-yard march. Utah countered with a 46-yard field goal from Becker with 4:05 left in the third to pull within seven points.

That set the stage for the furious finish.

–Field Level Media

Dec 2, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Utah Utes wide receiver Money Parks (10) runs the ball for a touchdown against the Southern California Trojans during the second half of the PAC-12 Football Championship at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

No. 11 Utah ends No. 4 USC’s playoff hopes with Pac-12 title win

Cameron Rising passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns as No. 11 Utah routed No. 4 Southern California 47-24 on Friday in the Pac-12 championship game at Las Vegas, ending the Trojans’ College Football Playoff aspirations.

Utah (10-3), which handed USC its only other loss of the season on Oct. 15 in Salt Lake City, claimed its second straight Pac-12 title thanks to a second-quarter rally and an overwhelming defensive performance over the game’s final three quarters.

USC (11-2) jumped ahead 17-3 less than three minutes into the second period and appeared headed to a lopsided win. Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback Caleb Williams threw touchdowns of 2 yards to Tahj Washington and 3 yards to Raleek Brown in the first quarter, completing a pair of drives that the Trojans extended with fourth-down conversions.

However, those possessions foreshadowed difficulties to come for the usually prolific Trojans offense.

Utah held USC to 1-for-12 on third-down attempts, conceding the only successfully third-down conversion early in the fourth quarter. The Utah defense got to Williams for seven sacks, led by Mohamoud Diabate and Gabe Reid with two each.

The Utes also made 11 tackles for loss, part of Utah stymying USC to the tune of just 56 rushing yards.

Utah’s Ja’Quinden Jackson and Micah Bernard both gained more rushing yards individually than USC accrued as a team, with Jackson going for 105 and Bernard finishing with 88.

Jackson scored Utah’s first touchdown of the game, and the first of his two on the night, late in the second quarter. A stop on the other side set the stage for Rising to lead the Utes on a 14-play, 81-yard drive in just 1:38 that culminated with the Utah quarterback finding Jaylen Dixon for a game-tying, 4-yard touchdown pass just before halftime.

That possession flipped the tone of the game, as Utah took a lead it never relinquished coming out of the locker room when Rising connected with Money Parks for a 57-yard touchdown.

Caleb Williams — who passed for 363 yards — threw the last of his three touchdowns to Mario Williams early in the fourth quarter to pull USC to within 27-24. It was all Utah from there.

Thomas Yassmin broke a series of tackles on the way to a 60-yard touchdown reception, Jackson rushed 53 yards for his second score, and Bernard put on the exclamation point with a 23-yard run.

Utah outgained USC 533 yards to 419 and won the turnover battle 2-1. USC came into Friday’s championship plus-23 on turnovers for the season.

–Field Level Media

Nov 26, 2022; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Utah Utes wide receiver Money Parks (10) is congratulated for his touchdown by Utah Utes offensive lineman Paul Maile (54) in the second quarter at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Utah wallops Colorado to keep Pac-12 title game hopes alive

Cameron Rising was 17-for-19 passing for 234 yards and three touchdowns, Ja’Quindon Jackson rushed for 117 yards and three scores, and the No. 14 Utah Utes beat the Colorado Buffaloes 63-21 in Boulder, Colo., on Saturday.

The Utes (9-3, 8-1) can clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game against USC if Washington beats Washington State later Saturday. Utah stayed in the hunt after Oregon State rallied to beat Oregon on Saturday.

Micah Bernard ran for 91 yards and a TD, Dalton Kincaid had five receptions for 102 yards and a score and Thomas Yassmin, Money Parks and Makai Cope had touchdown catches for the Utes.

Alex Fontenot and Anthony Hankerson ran for touchdowns and Maddox Kopp was 14-for-27 passing for 123 yards and a TD to Frank Fillip for the Buffaloes (1-11, 1-8).

Utah took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on TD runs by Bernard and Jackson, and the Utes opened a big lead in the second quarter.

Bernard carried four times for 53 yards on the next drive and three plays later Jackson scored his second TD with a two-yard run early in the second quarter. After forcing another punt, Utah struck again on a 41-yard TD pass from Rising to Yassmin to make the score 28-0.

Rising made the score 35-0 with a nine-yard TD pass to Parks with 52 seconds left in the half. Colorado used 24 seconds before punting again and Rising finished off a big first half with a 29-yard TD pass to Kincaid with three seconds left.

The Buffaloes intercepted Rising on the first drive of the second half and returned it to the Utah 11. Two plays later, Fontenot scored from one yard out. Jackson scored on a 66-yard run 48 seconds later to make it 48-7.

After another Colorado punt, Bryson Barnes connected with Cope for a 21-yard TD pass late in the third quarter. The Buffaloes responded with its longest drive of the game, 79 yards, finished off by Hankerson’s 23-yard TD run.

Jaylon Glover scored the Utes’ ninth touchdown on a five-yard run.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2022; Eugene, Oregon, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) throws a pass during the first half against Oregon Ducks linebacker Noah Sewell (1) at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

No. 14 Utah looking to bounce back at Colorado

No. 14 Utah will close out the regular season at Colorado on Saturday while keeping an eye on the out-of-town scoreboard.

The Utes (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12) have an outside shot at returning to Las Vegas for the conference championship game next week and a rematch against Southern California, but it will take a group effort.

The 20-17 loss to Oregon last week put the Utes in a position where help is needed to defend their Pac-12 title. If UCLA beats Cal on Friday, Oregon State beats Oregon on Saturday and Washington beats Washington State on Saturday, the Utes, Ducks and Huskies would finish in a tie for second place with a 7-2 record.

After a series of tiebreakers, the Utes could claim the last spot in the title game based on the strength of schedule of common opponents.

To make that scenario even possible, Utah must beat Colorado (1-10, 1-7), which is finishing up a disappointing season under interim head coach Mike Sanford. The Buffaloes could have helped the Utes last week but lost to the Huskies 54-7.

Utah quarterback Cam Rising would love nothing more than to erase the loss to the Ducks. Rising threw three interceptions against Oregon, and although he has a year of eligibility left, he took part in senior night Nov. 12, an indication he could declare for the NFL draft.

His teammates aren’t blaming Rising for the loss to the Ducks.

“Maybe us as receivers could have made more plays and made it easier for him,” receiver Devaughn Vele said. “The running backs could have hit the holes harder or the O-line could have blocked better. It’s a team sport. To put it all on him is kind of unfair. I view it as I need to worry about my 20 square feet. He’s going to do the same. I trust in him that he’ll do his job and I’ll do my job.”

The Buffaloes are a good candidate to restore Rising’s mojo. Colorado has allowed 38 or more points in each of its 10 losses and has given up 109 in the last two weeks. The Buffaloes are last in points allowed in the Football Bowl Subdivision at 42.6 per game.

The news around Boulder, Colo., isn’t so much about the last game of the season but who could be leading the program next year. Sanford took over for the fired Karl Dorrell and has gone 1-5 since, and he is a candidate for the permanent job.

However, a report from on Monday said that Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders has been linked to talks with the Buffaloes and South Florida.

A few Colorado players expressed support for Sanders on social media, but the NFL Hall of Famer isn’t going to do any campaigning for the job just yet.

“I don’t want anything to do with that, to be honest,” Sanders said. “I’ve kind of seen that deal before where it goes that direction where there’s people that are politicking and working and lobbying and stuff like that. And to me, that’s doing stuff that I don’t think is appropriate.”

–Field Level Media