SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Cam Rising was back, but the Utes took to the ground to beat Arizona Saturday night, 45-20.
#14 Utah rushed for a season-high 306 yards, while five different players scored touchdowns, as the Utes won its third game in a row to stay in the race for the Pac-12 title.
Ja’Quinden Jackson ran for a career-high 97 yards and a touchdown, while Rising threw for 151 yards and a touchdown in his return following a one-game absence. Utah (No. 14 CFP, 7-2, 5-1 Pac-12) forced seven fumbles and recovered four.
“The real story of the game was our offense’s ability to run the football, said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “300-plus yards rushing, and anytime you can do that, most of the time you’re going to control the game, which is what happened.”
“The offensive line did a great job,” Rising said. “We were able to run the all downhill all night. They just controlled the line of scrimmage, and anytime you do that it’s going to be good for the offense.”
Jayden de Laura had 159 yards passing and ran for a touchdown to lead Arizona (3-6, 1-5). The Wildcats totaled 387 yards but gained only 138 yards after halftime.
Utah took control of the game in the second quarter behind an imposing running attack. The Utes racked up 153 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in the first half while averaging 7.0 yards per carry. Three of the scores came in the second quarter.
Arizona got its only touchdown before halftime when Michael Wiley gained 57 yards on a jet sweep to set up De Laura’s 3-yard scoring run two plays later to tie the score 7-7.
Third string QB Nate Johnson scored touchdowns on his first two career carries to help Utah pull away before halftime. His first touchdown, an 8-yard run, put the Utes up 14-7. After Zemaiah Vaughn recovered a muffed punt return at the Arizona 9, Johnson punched it in on his second run one play later to extend the lead to 28-7.
“First carry, touchdown, second carry, touchdown, it gives me a lot of confidence,” said Johnson. “As a true freshman, most true freshman quarterbacks don’t really play. So it gave me a really big confidence booster.”
The Utes drove deep into Arizona territory twice in the third quarter, but fumbles ended both drives. Utah finally scored its fifth touchdown early in the fourth on Rising’s first touchdown pass. He connected with Thomas Yassmin on a 12-yard strike to extend the Utes’ lead to 38-10.
The Wildcats came into the game with nation’s third-ranked passing offense but struggled to generate much through the air against Utah. Arizona was held to 231 yards passing after averaging 340.1 yards through the air in its previous contests.
“That’s a good offense right there,” Utah linebaker Karene Reid said about the Wildcats. “They had some really good receivers. I feel like the DB’s especially played a great game. We were trying to get after that quarterback, and anytime he threw it, I feel like for the most part, the DB’s were able to break it up.”
Taking a running back-by-committee approach worked well for the Utes. Nine different players carried the ball for Utah and five averaged at least seven yards per carry. Tavion Thomas, who missed the Washington State team for personal reasons, rushed for 38 yards on 8 carries.
The Utes next host Stanford November 12th at Rice-Eccles Stadium.