Oct 23, 2021; Pasadena, California, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) throws the ball against the Oregon Ducks  in the first half at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA, Utah battle for positioning in Pac-12 South

The Pac-12 South race has taken multiple turns in just a few weeks, and Saturday’s contest between UCLA and Utah in Salt Lake City could present another.

Utah (4-3, 3-1 Pac-12) gained the inside track with three straight wins to open league play, including double-digit routs of divisional opponents Southern California and Arizona State on Oct. 9 and Oct. 16, respectively.

However, the Utes sustained their first conference loss last week at Oregon State, 42-34, giving up a season-high point total. The result left Utah tied with Arizona State (5-2, 3-1) for the division lead.

Utah’s typically stout run defense allowed 6.3 yards per carry and 260 yards in total at Corvallis.

“We’re just not quite where we need to be up front yet,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said of the defensive line in his Monday press conference. “We’ve had flashes during the course of the year, but not quite enough consistency.”

The loss of linebacker Devin Lloyd to a targeting penalty in the second half was “obviously a blow,” Whittingham said, but not “key to the whole thing.”

Still, Oregon State scored two touchdowns after Lloyd’s ejection to take then extend the lead. Lloyd, who ranks second in the nation with 13 tackles for loss, will miss the first half of Saturday’s matchup with UCLA.

The Bruins (5-3, 3-2) come into Utah needing a win to keep their hopes of reaching the Pac-12 championship game realistically alive. UCLA trails both Utah and Arizona State by a game in the loss column but took a head-to-head loss to the Sun Devils on Oct. 2.

UCLA took its second Pac-12 loss of the season last week when a furious rally against Oregon fell short in a 34-31 defeat.

The Bruins trailed by 17 points early in the fourth quarter, but a Jordan Genmark Heath interception set up one touchdown drive just four minutes after another.

Jay Shaw picked off an Oregon pass to give UCLA possession with a chance to win or tie, but quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson sustained a shoulder injury on the next drive, an ailment that could sideline him Saturday.

Thompson-Robinson was dressed but did not throw in practice on Monday. That leaves Ethan Garbers as UCLA’s likely starter.

Garbers, a Washington transfer, went 2-of-5 for 22 yards and was intercepted on the Bruins’ final possession.

UCLA’s run game has been outstanding in wins, going for at least 204 yards in those five games. In the three losses, the Bruins have averaged 141.7 rushing yards per game, including the 110 they gained against Oregon.

Thompson-Robinson’s mobility has been an important weapon along with running backs Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet. The quarterback has six rushing touchdowns and is averaging almost 46 rushing yards per game.

The UCLA defense has been solid against the run, but Oregon was the second opponent to clear 5 yards per carry against the Bruins. The other was Arizona State.

Utah comes in averaging 5.3 yards per carry behind a primary three-man attack of running backs Tavion Thomas and Micah Bernard as well as quarterback Cameron Rising.

Loading up to focus on the run will not be an option, however, as Rising has dramatically improved Utah’s passing offense since taking over as the starting quarterback. He has thrown for at least 247 yards in each of the past three games.

“You can’t defend totally one thing, then not take advantage of another thing,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said at his Monday media availability. “(Oregon quarterback) Anthony Brown, we gave him too many shots and too many easy completions, and we’ve got to be able to do both (defend the run and the pass).”

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA;  Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) drops back to pass in the first quarter against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Rising has offense cooking as Utah visits Oregon State

Utah and Oregon State both sit atop their respective Pac-12 divisions heading into their matchup in Corvallis, Ore., on Saturday.

The Utes (4-2, 3-0 Pac-12) are all alone in first place in the Pac-12 South and are riding a three-game winning streak after dismantling then-No. 18 Arizona State 35-21. Utah scored 28 unanswered points after halftime to beat the Sun Devils.

Since Cameron Rising took over as starting quarterback, Utah’s offense has become difficult to contain. Ten of Utah’s last 13 scoring drives have covered 65 yards or longer with an average time of 3:26 per drive. The Utes are averaging 430.3 yards per game in their last three games with Rising at the controls after averaging 372.3 total yards in their first three contests.

“Offensively, I think we’re just starting to hit our stride,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We sputtered the first few games, but the last two or three we’ve started to figure out who we are, who we got to get the ball to, and how we’ve got to get them the ball.”

The Beavers (4-2, 2-1) are tied for first in the Pac-12 North with Oregon. Oregon State is coming off a bye week after falling 31-24 to Washington State two weeks ago.

So far, the Beavers have been one of the league’s surprise teams because of a high-powered offense. Oregon State is scoring a Pac-12-best 34.0 points per game and the Beavers rank second in the league in total offense with 441.7 yards per game. B.J. Baylor has been the main catalyst for that success. Baylor leads the Pac-12 with 112.8 rushing yards per game.

Still, Oregon State is looking for improvements on the defensive end after squandering a 10-3 halftime lead to Washington State.

“We’re going to need to improve and play better because our opponents are doing the same thing,” Beavers coach Jonathan Smith said.

The series between Utah and Oregon State is tied 11-11-1. Utah has won five straight in the series dating back to 2014. The Beavers are seeking their first win at home over the Utes since 2012.

–Field Level Media

Oct 2, 2021; Boulder, Colorado, USA; USC Trojans mascot cheers before the game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

LA Coliseum: House of horrors for both USC and Utah

Road games against conference opponents Washington State and Colorado have provided something of a respite for USC, but the Trojans will return home to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday to see if they can finally play a quality home game against a quality opponent.

The Coliseum has provided unhappy Pac-12 scenes so far this season for USC, but it has been far worse for visiting Utah, which has never won at the venerable stadium in eight tries since it opened in 1923.

USC (3-2, 2-2 Pac-12) is coming off a 37-14 win at Colorado and interim coach Donte’ Williams will be looking for his team to build on that performance.

The Trojans’ 42-28 homefield drubbing at the hands of Stanford on Sept. 11 led to the firing of coach Clay Helton, and after winning on the road at Washington State in Williams’ debut, USC laid another egg at home in a 45-27 loss to Oregon State.

Williams and the USC staff made some changes last week at Colorado, including integrating more of running back Darwin Barlow into the offense. He carried 10 times for 61 yards to complement Keaontay Ingram’s 124 yards rushing.

Williams attributed Barlow’s increased role to the improved health of the transfer from TCU.

“We already knew he had this in him,” Williams said Sunday.

An improved run game could be critical for USC to reverse its fortunes at home, where its only victory in three games was a struggle against San Jose State when the Trojans needed 17 fourth-quarter points to pull away.

Against Oregon State, the Trojans gained just 76 net rushing yards, and falling behind by more than three touchdowns forced quarterback Kedon Slovis to pass 49 times. He was intercepted three times, fueling Oregon State’s dominance as the Beavers won at the Coliseum for the first time since 1960.

Now Utah (2-2, 1-0) looks to end another long drought for a visitor in the building. The Utes last won at USC in 1916 when the Trojans played at Fiesta Park.

“The Coliseum … has been a brutal place for us to play,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday.

Utah’s last three visits have been especially painful.

In 2015, Utah came in ranked No. 3 before losing a 42-24 decision. That result began an undefeated home winning streak of almost three years for the Trojans.

In 2017, the Utes lost by one point (28-27) on a denied two-point conversion attempt.

And in 2019, 10th-ranked Utah gave up a series of long pass plays to backup quarterback Matt Fink in a 30-23 USC win. It was Utah’s only loss of the regular season.

Cam Rising has taken over as Utah’s starting quarterback. Rising replaced Charlie Brewer during Utah’s Sept. 18 loss at San Diego State.

Brewer had been a four-year starter at Baylor but struggled through a 2-7 season and transferred to Utah. After earning the starting job in camp, Brewer started the first three games, completing 60.8 percent of his passes at 6.1 yards per attempt with three touchdowns and three interceptions in the 1-2 start.

Saturday marks Utah’s first contest since the murder of safety Aaron Lowe in the early-morning hours of Sept. 26, shortly after the Utes’ 24-13, conference-opening win over Washington State.

Lowe changed his jersey number to 22 before the season in honor of running back Ty Jordan, who died in an accidental shooting in Texas in December.

“It takes everything you got to overcome it,” Whittingham said of keeping focus during the grieving process.

–Field Level Media

Sep 25, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) warms up prior to their game against the Washington State Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Defense leads Utah past Washington State

T.J. Pledger scored a go-ahead touchdown and rushed for 117 yards, Clark Phillips returned an interception 54 yards for another late score and the Utah defense sparked a second-half comeback in a 24-13 win over Washington State in Pac-12 action on Saturday afternoon at Salt Lake City.

The talk all week around Utah (2-2, 1-0 Pac-12) revolved around the quarterback position after starter Charlie Brewer quit earlier in the week, paving the way for Cameron Rising to seize the No. 1 spot after he rallied the team in a loss to San Diego State.

While Rising only threw for 137 yards, the defense stepped up to help Utah knock off Washington State (1-3, 0-2) in its conference opener. That was critical after the Utes’ offense fumbled the ball seven times, losing possession three times in a less-than-ideal showing.

Utah racked up eight sacks, notched three interceptions and limited the Cougars to 13 points despite being on the field for nearly 37 of the 60 minutes.

Devin Lloyd had a brilliant game for Utah with eight tackles, one sack and one interception, and fellow linebacker Karene Reid, tallied a team-high 15 tackles, one sack and an interception.

Utah scored the final 17 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter after falling behind 13-7 in the third.

Washington State scored just before and after halftime, with Dean Janikowski punching in a 20-yard, last-second field goal before the intermission and then scoring a touchdown following a fumble recovery early in the third quarter. Jarrett Guarantano hit De’Zhaun Stribling on a 26-yard pass for that score.

That turn of events turned a 7-3 deficit into a 13-7 lead for the Cougars.

Guarantano completed 25 of 36 passes for 248 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

Pledger did his damage on just 10 carries, including a 59-yard rumble and a 20-yard scoring run with 4:43 left in the game.

The teams went scoreless in the first quarter, as the Cougars turned it over twice and the Utes had two punts.

Dean Janikowski registered the first points with a 39-yard field goal with 10:34 left in the second quarter.

A 22-yard scramble by Rising paved way for a touchdown by his backup, Ja’Quinden Jackson. That 2-yard Jackson score gave Utah a 7-3 lead.

After the Cougars’ 10-0 push, the Utes responded with a 28-yard field goal by Jadon Redding to start the comeback.

–Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Carson, California, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) celebrates with wide receiver Solomon Enis (21) the successful two point conversion against the San Diego State Aztecs during the second half at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Utah QB Cameron Rising to start vs. Washington State

An early season starting-quarterback controversy for Utah’s football team came to an unexpected resolution Tuesday morning.

In a surprising turn of events, former Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer left the Utes’ program three days after being benched part way through a disappointing showing in a loss to San Diego State.

Cameron Rising will start for the Utes (1-2, 0-0 Pac-12) in Saturday’s conference game against Washington State (1-2, 0-1) in Salt Lake City.

Utah released a statement confirming Brewer’s departure shortly after Rising was listed atop the depth chart. Texas transfer Ja’Quinden Jackson was listed in the primary backup spot.

“Charlie has decided to move on, and we wish him the best,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement.

Brewer, who passed for 9,700 yards in his four years at Baylor, was relieved by Rising in the third quarter against San Diego State on Saturday, and Rising ignited a late comeback to force overtime by throwing two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Utah ended up losing 33-31 to the Aztecs in triple overtime.

“Cam came in and gave us that spark with his legs as well as with his arm — he ran for some big gains,” Whittingham said of Rising, who threw for 153 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 46 yards.

“He came in off the bench, and his first few passes might have been a little bit errant, but he settled in and did a great job once he got into a rhythm – and he got into a rhythm very quickly.”

Washington State got more than its fill of seeing a replacement quarterback last Saturday when freshman Jaxson Dart stepped in early in the game after Kedon Slovis was injured. Dart led Southern California to a 45-14 blowout win by completing 30-of-46 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns in his dazzling debut.

The Cougars went up 14-0 and led by a touchdown at halftime, but USC cruised to victory after scoring 28 points in the third quarter.

Washington State amassed only 279 yards of offense compared with 447 by the Trojans.

Cougars coach Nick Rolovich encouraged his players to “stay together” after the rough loss at home.

“See how you can get better,” Rolovich said, sharing the message he gave to his players. “We’ve got a long season in front of us.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 2, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) looks to pass against the Weber State Wildcats at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

QB Charlie Brewer leaves Utah after benching

After getting benched, transfer quarterback Charlie Brewer has decided to leave the Utah football program.

“Charlie has decided to move on and we wish him the best,” coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement on Tuesday.

Brewer joined the Utes this season as a graduate transfer after four seasons at Baylor. He started the first three games but was replaced by Cam Rising during last Saturday’s 33-31 triple-overtime loss to San Diego State.

Rising, a redshirt sophomore, will get the start Saturday when Utah (1-2, 0-0 Pac-12) hosts Washington State (1-2, 0-1).

Brewer completed 48 of 79 passes for 484 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions this season.

He passed for 9,700 yards, 65 touchdowns and 28 picks during his four seasons at Baylor (2017-20).

–Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Carson, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs running back Greg Bell (22) runs the ball against the Utah Utes during the first half at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego State outlasts Utah in triple overtime

Greg Bell ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns to lead San Diego State to a 33-31 victory in triple overtime over Utah on Saturday in Carson, Calif.

Backup quarterback Lucas Johnson added 87 yards on eight carries. The Aztecs (3-0) totaled 204 rushing yards against the Utes (1-2), who led the Pac-12 in rushing defense each of the previous three seasons. Utah gave up 224 yards rushing to BYU last time out.

SDSU got the winning points on a trick play when Jesse Matthews threw a pass to Johnson for a successful two-point play.

Cameron Rising threw for 153 yards and three touchdowns to lead Utah. Rising added 46 yards on five carries.

The Utes did not get going on offense until late in the fourth quarter. Charlie Brewer threw for 104 yards and an interception before being replaced at quarterback by Rising late in the third quarter.

Rising led Utah to touchdowns on three straight drives, culminating in a 25-yard pass to Jaylen Dixon that knotted it up at 31-31 at the end of the first overtime.

Neither offense gained any traction in the first half. Utah totaled 89 yards while San Diego State mustered 79 yards. The two teams were a combined 1-of-16 on third down before halftime.

Utah finished with zero total yards in the first quarter. The Utes still jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the strength of an 80-yard punt return by Britain Covey.

The Aztecs tied it up 10-10 midway through the second quarter after Jordan Byrd returned a kickoff 100 yards.

San Diego State took over in the third quarter. The Aztecs covered 82 yards on their opening drive in the second half, running seven out of eight plays, and took a 17-10 lead on a 7-yard run from Bell. Then, Tayler Hawkins intercepted Brewer and returned it 34 yards, setting up Bell’s second 7-yard scoring run on the next play. It extended the Aztecs’ lead to 24-10 with 10:42 left in the third quarter.

Rising threw a 2-yard TD pass to Covey to help Utah cut it to 24-16 with 4:17 left. The Utes got the ball back after forcing a 3-and-out and drove down for another touchdown in the final seconds of regulation, tying it up on a 4-yard TD catch by Theo Howard with 16 seconds remaining.

–Field Level Media

Sep 2, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes running back Micah Bernard (2) is tackled by Weber State Wildcats defensive end George Tarlas (44) in the first quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Utah looking to bounce back against San Diego State

Utah is searching for answers on both sides of the ball heading into a nonconference clash Saturday with San Diego State in Carson, Calif.

The Utes (1-1) endured some uncharacteristic struggles during a 26-17 loss to archrival BYU on Saturday. Defensively, Utah surrendered 231 rushing yards — the highest amount it had given up since a loss to Texas in the 2019 Alamo Bowl. Offensively, the Utes could not sustain drives, converting just 2 of 11 attempts on third and fourth downs.

BYU dominated the Utes at the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively for four quarters, a rarity for a Utah team with a reputation for punishing opponents up front.

“They wore us out in the second half,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said. “That’s when they started to wear us down and push us around. … They did a great job of sticking to their game plan, not deviating, continuing to run the football, and softening us up. Usually, we don’t soften up.”

San Diego State (2-0) will pose another tough test for the Utes along the line of scrimmage.

The Aztecs thrashed Arizona 38-14 on Saturday after rolling up 271 yards on the ground. Greg Bell led the way with 125 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. San Diego State averaged 4.9 yards per carry as a team.

Defensively, the Aztecs held Arizona to 230 total yards and nine first downs. San Diego State forced 11 punts and the Wildcats went 1-of-14 on third down. It helped the Aztecs stake out a 21-0 lead by the midway point of the first quarter.

The fast start came a week after New Mexico State shut out San Diego State in the first half.

“I wish I could tell you how they happen, but if I could tell you, we would do it every time,” Aztecs coach Brady Hoke said. “I believe we had a good plan.”

Containing Utah running back Micah Bernard will be key to San Diego State jumping on a second straight Pac-12 opponent quickly. Bernard ripped off 146 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries against BYU. He is averaging 10.1 yards per carry through his first two games and seems to have emerged as Ty Jordan’s successor in the backfield.

“He’s grown up right before our eyes,” Whittingham said. “He has matured and developed a toughness and a consistency about him that is admirable.”

Utah has won five straight in the series with San Diego State dating back to 2005. The Utes hold a 17-12-1 lead in the series.

–Field Level Media

Sep 11, 2021; Provo, Utah, USA; Brigham Young Cougars running back Tyler Allgeier (25) runs the ball in the second quarter against the Utah Utes at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

BYU knocks off No. 21 Utah, snaps skid to Utes

Quarterback Jaren Hall threw three touchdown passes and running back Tyler Allgeier rushed for 97 yards as BYU earned its first win over rival Utah in 10 tries, 26-17 on Saturday night in Provo, Utah.

The Cougars controlled most of the game, striking early and taking a 23-7 lead into the fourth quarter. But the No. 21 Utes scored 10 straight points to pull within six midway through the final stanza.

BYU snapped its nine-game losing streak to Utah.

BYU salted this win when kicker Jake Oldroyd booted his second field goal of the game from 21 yards out with 3:17 remaining. The Cougars then forced Utah into a turnover on downs as Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer overthrew his intended receiver on fourth down.

Brewer threw for 147 yards with one touchdown and one interception on 15-of-26 passing in his first taste of the fierce BYU-Utah rivalry game. His Utes suffered their first loss in the series since the Cougars won at home in 2009 when both teams were ranked in the top 25.

Micah Bernard had a huge game rushing for Utah, finishing with 146 yards on 12 carries. His 22-yard touchdown with 9:31 remaining cut BYU’s lead to 23-17 after a 47-yard field goal by Jadon Redding turned momentum in the visitor’s direction early in the fourth quarter.

The win was especially sweet for Samson Nacua, who transferred to BYU from Utah last year. He joined his brother Puka in Provo, who left Washington to play with him. Samson Nacua was one of three receivers to haul in a touchdown pass from Hall.

It was also BYU coach Kalani Sitake’s first win over the team he used to coach and his mentor, Utes coach Kyle Whittingham.

This was BYU’s second win over a Pac-12 team to start the 2021 season; the Cougars opened with a win over Arizona last Saturday.

The victory came a day after the Big 12 Conference officially announced that it had accepted the program as a member. Fans driving to the game saw multiple new billboards welcoming them to Big 12 country and congratulating BYU on joining a Power 5 conference after playing as an independent in football for the past decade.

–Field Level Media

Jul 27, 2021; Hollywood, CA, USA; Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham speaks with the media during the Pac-12 football Media Day at the W Hollywood. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

No. 21 Utah aims to extend success in BYU rivalry

The latest installment of the Holy War carries historical stakes.

No. 21 Utah will visit BYU in Provo on Saturday night looking for its 10th straight victory in the heated rivalry. Neither school has won more than nine straight since the series began in 1896 – a series the Utes lead 62-34-4.

Many recent contests between BYU and Utah have been close games with exciting finishes. The game has been decided by eight points or less in eight of the past 10 meetings.

“It’s up there with the best rivalries in all of college football,” Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd said.

The Utes seem to be in a good position to extend their winning streak after dismantling Weber State 40-17 in their season opener. Utah showed good balance on offense.

Charlie Brewer threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-27 passing in his debut with the Utes. Tavion Thomas also starred in his Utah debut, rushing for 107 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.

Utah scored on its first three drives and averaged 7.5 yards per play. The Utes struck almost a 50/50 balance between the run and pass after making it goal to incorporate more passing into the offense heading into the season.

Improving in the passing game remains a point of emphasis this week.

“We know we need to throw the football better,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We need to throw it more productively and more efficiently than we did last year. If you want to be an elite team, you have to be able to throw the ball with a lot of those big-chunk yardage plays.”

BYU will face Utah as part of seeing three Pac-12 teams in a three-week span. The Cougars took care of Arizona in their season opener, 24-16 in Las Vegas.

Jaren Hall fared well in his season debut, throwing for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 18-of-28 passing. Hall added 36 yards on five carries. His favorite target, Neil Pau’u, finished with a career-high 126 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches. Tyler Allgeier added 94 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.

Hall played mistake-free football for the most part against Arizona, which kept the Wildcats from ever seriously threatening to rally against BYU.

“The thing I liked the most about how he played was he protected the football,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “He made some really good throws and made some great decisions.”

This will be the last game between the two rivals before the series takes a two-year hiatus in 2022 and 2023. Both teams are fired up to hold in-state bragging rights. Even if it no longer carries the same implications from when they were conference rivals, players and coaches from both BYU and Utah still feel a special energy attached to the game.

“It’s definitely one of the most anticipated games each season,” Cougars defensive end Tyler Batty said. “It’s intense, it’s exciting, it’s pretty much everything you could want in a football game.”

–Field Level Media