Oct 23, 2021; Corvallis, Oregon, USA; Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham looks onto the field during the first half against the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Rising helps No. 24 Utah hold off Arizona

Cameron Rising threw for 294 yards and accounted for three touchdowns, and T.J. Pledger scored a late touchdown as No. 24 Utah held off Arizona 38-29 on Saturday in Pac-12 play at Tucson, Ariz.

Arizona (1-9, 1-6 Pac-12) scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter to get within 31-29 before Utah (7-3, 6-1) answered with a 15-play, 75-yard drive, capped by Pledger’s 2-yard run with 2:10 left to make it a two-score game after the extra point.

Rising completed 19 of 30 passes, including two touchdowns. He opened the scoring with an 11-yard run nearly five minutes into the game.

Arizona, which ended a 20-game losing streak last week by beating Cal 10-3, closed within 31-23 with 11:31 to go on Tyler Loop’s 22-yard field goal attempt. After forcing a three-and-out, the Wildcats blocked a Utah punt, with Rhedi Short recovering and scoring on a 3-yard return. The two-point conversion run failed.

On the ensuing drive, Utah converted a fourth-and-1 at the Arizona 42-yard line en route to the game-sealing score.

Utah, which began the day with a one-game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker over Arizona State in the Pac-12 South, played without leading rusher Tavion Thomas, who had rushed for four touchdowns in each of the previous two games. He sat for what was described as a “precaution.”

Pledger started and carried 25 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Arizona quarterback Will Plummer completed 18 of 32 throws for 219 yards and one touchdown. He ended up as the team’s leading rusher with 50 yards, most coming on a 43-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Utah took a 7-0 lead after the first possession of the game, but the Wildcats stormed back with back-to-back touchdown drives to take a 14-7 lead after the first quarter.

The Utes tied the game on the first play of the second quarter on a 15-yard rush by Pledger, and that’s how the score remained until Arizona’s Lucas Havrisik tied the school record with a 57-yard field goal with 1:24 to go before halftime.

That was enough time for Utah, which drove 75 yards in nine plays, capped by a 2-yard pass from Rising to Brant Kuithe with two seconds left for a 21-17 lead.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA;  Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas (9) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Cameron Rising (7) during the fourth quarter against the UCLA Bruins at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Utah aims to clinch Pac-12 South on road vs. Arizona

Utah heads into this weekend with a chance to clinch the Pac-12 South if it can defeat host Arizona on Saturday afternoon in Tucson, Ariz.

The Utes (6-3, 5-1 Pac-12) have a one-game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker over Arizona State. The race will be over if the Sun Devils lose at Washington and Utah takes care of business against the Wildcats (1-8, 1-5), who unburdened themselves of a 20-game losing streak by eking past Cal 10-3 on Saturday.

Utah is surging after a 1-2 start, thoroughly dominating Stanford in its last game, winning 52-7 while rushing for 441 yards. The Utes had three 100-yard rushers for the first time in program history, led by Tavion Thomas, who has rushed for four touchdowns in each of the past two games.

Thomas rushed just 21 times in the first four games but now leads a powerful rushing attack with 122 carries for 742 yards and 14 touchdowns.

“He’s got size, he’s got speed, he’s got quickness and pretty much everything you are looking for in a running back,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

“Early on, the ball security wasn’t where it needed to be and by no means did we ever consider giving up on him. We knew that we needed to continue bringing him along and get him to the point where everybody felt confidence in him carrying the football and that he was going to protect it.”

While the Utes will try to control the game on the ground — they rank 16th nationally at 219.0 yards per game — quarterback Cameron Rising also has been a steady force, avoiding the big mistake. He has completed 129 of 203 passes for 1,458 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Arizona is feeling good entering its home finale after beating a Cal team depleted by COVID-19 safety protocols.

“I told our team, ‘So what; now what?” coach Jedd Fisch said. “It’s over at this point. We have signs all over our building — so what now?”

Will Plummer, the only healthy scholarship quarterback on the roster, left the Cal game with shoulder and hand injuries, but he kept returning and led a late touchdown drive for the winning points. He is expected to play against Utah, although wide receiver Jamarye Joiner and running back Michael Wiley figure to continue to take direct snaps to mix things up.

Utah has won the past three meetings dating to 2016. The teams did not play last season.

Whittingham is 140-69 in 18 years at Utah, needing one more victory to tie Ike Armstrong for the most wins in school history. Armstrong was 141-55-15 in 25 seasons (1925 to 1949).

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA;  UCLA Bruins wide receiver Kyle Philips (2) is tackled by Utah Utes safety Brandon McKinney (28) during the first quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Tavion Thomas (4 TDs), Utah run roughshod over UCLA

Tavion Thomas rushed for 160 yards and scored four touchdowns to lead Utah past UCLA 44-24 on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

On a night that Utah retired the No. 22 in honor of Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, Thomas became the first Ute to rush for at least three touchdowns in one game since Jordan in his final game last December.

Jordan was killed in an accidental shooting one week later, and Lowe — who adopted the No. 22 in Jordan’s honor — died in a shooting on Sept. 26.

Utah (5-3, 4-1 Pac-12) started the emotional night with a nine-play, 75-yard drive capped on Thomas’ first score, a 10-yard run. The Utes led for the remainder after that opening possession, and Thomas’ touchdowns of eight and 10 yards in the second quarter pushed the lead to 28-10.

Quarterback Cam Rising went 17-of-27 passing for 179 yards and found tight end Dalton Kincaid for an eight-yard touchdown late in the first half.

After UCLA trimmed the deficit to 12 points on an Ethan Garbers pass to tight end Michael Ezeike, Rising capped an 11-play drive with a 12-yard touchdown run to push the lead back to three possessions.

The Bruins (5-4, 3-3) threatened again in the fourth quarter when Garbers threw a nine-yard touchdown to Greg Dulcich but could never cut the deficit to single digits. Utah capitalized on a Rising quick-kick of 43 yards that pinned UCLA at its own six-yard line.

Defensive tackle Hauati Pututau got to Garbers for a sack and safety. On the Utes’ ensuing possession after the free kick, Thomas went 24 yards for his final touchdown and an exclamation point on the win.

Rising and running back T.J. Pledger added 63 and 61 yards rushing. Utah finished with 290 rushing yards as a team.

Running back Zach Charbonnet led UCLA with 65 yards, 30 of which came on a touchdown run in the first half. Backfield mate Brittain Brown rushed for 45 yards on 10 carries and caught six passes for 53 yards.

Garbers went 27-of-44 passing for 265 yards and was picked off by linebacker Nephi Sewell.

Saturday’s win gives Utah breathing room heading into the final month of the Pac-12 South divisional race. Arizona State’s loss earlier in the day to Washington State leaves Utah atop the division in the loss column, and the Utes now boast head-to-head wins over nearest competitors Arizona State, USC and UCLA.

–Field Level Media

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