football Edit

Utes Get Needed Win Over Wazzu

The University of Utah kicked off Pac-12 play early Saturday by defeating the Washington State Cougars, 24-13. The game turned out to be a defensive battle chock-full of mistakes and drives cut short by fumbles. Despite it all, Utah was able to grind out a win and start 1-0 in conference play

"Credit to our guys for playing the full 60 minutes,” Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham stated. “That's pretty much what it took. We talked about that all week, fighting for 60 and knowing it might take a full 60, which it pretty much did.”

With that being said, Whittingham did also make sure to note that Utah has a lot they could have improved on this game as well.

“We squandered a lot of opportunities for sure,” Whittingham said. “We had fumbles, we had red zone chances we didn't capitalize on. So there's a lot of things that we need to continue to work on and we will keep addressing it.”

The first quarter was all defense for both teams. Utah forced a turnover on downs and also had walk-on freshman Karene Reid snag an interception in his first career start. Additionally, Devin Lloyd helped bolster the linebackers who played an excellent game. Despite the great defensive play, the offense could not execute early on and the first quarter ended up scoreless.

The second quarter was much the same, but a Cam Rising run with 5:53 remaining in the half plus a facemask sparked the offense. The drive was capped off by two Ja’Quinden Jackson runs that ended up with Utah’s lone touchdown of the first half. Washington State kicked a field goal with one second to go in the half to make it 7-6.

Utah’s woes looked like they would continue when a Utes fumble on the first play of the second half led to a Washington State touchdown that put Utah down 13-7.

“We have to pick that up on Monday and make sure the ball security is our No. 1 priority,” said Rising. “That can't happen again. That was terrible. We have to be better as an offense with that. We can't give up possessions.”

While Utah’s offense struggled, Utah’s defense came to the rescue and had eight total sacks in the game.

“We dialed up the dose of pressure more than the first three games. So we did blitz more,” Whittingham noted, “Just had some really good performances. Junior Tafuna, what a pleasant surprise he's been and he really played well. Mika Tafua and Van Fillinger both got their first sacks. So it wasn't a lot of magic, just a better job by our front of getting home. I see eight sacks here and that was a complete turnaround from what we had done in the first three games. That needed to happen. The impact plays on defense—sacks, takeaways—were up and that's a good thing."

Utah began playing much better in the second half on both sides of the ball when they started feeding the ball to TJ Pledger.

"I love giving the ball to TJ. He is a playmaker and he showed it right there,” said Rising. “I love seeing that, especially when he just hits that crease. It is a great thing to see."

Pledger was able to rip off multiple long runs in the second half and most importantly hold onto the ball. He also had Utah’s lone offensive touchdown of the second half with 4:53 remaining in the game on a 20-yard run that made it a 17-13 game and gave Utah back the lead. Pledger finished with 10 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown.

“I've been through a lot in college and one thing I know is that you want to stay ready before you get ready. That is big for me,” Pledger said. “Just being patient and understanding that my time will come one day, so that's what I prepare for every week. It is just about taking advantage of your opportunities. You just have to keep putting the best foot forward. It meant a lot to me today, and I'm just thankful for my coaches for always believing in me."

The game started with defense for Utah and it ended with defense when Clark Phillips III snagged his second career pick-6 putting an exclamation point on the victory as Utah took a 24-13 lead with just 2:19 remaining in the game.

"You know, you study film, you prepare your game plan every week like it is going to come to you,” said Phillips. “So when it happens, you take advantage of it with your guys and you celebrate."

It wasn’t pretty, but Utah grinded out a win in their first Pac-12 game of the year. The defense looked the best it has all year, but as Whittingham noted, the offensive side of the ball is, “Still a work in progress.”