SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – USC quarterback Caleb Williams was pretty good when the Utes saw him in October when he threw for 381 yards and five touchdown passes. But has the Heisman Trophy favorite actually gotten better since the Trojans only loss of the year?
“I would say yes, said Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham. “I think he He just keeps getting better and better. He’s maybe the most difficult quarterback to sack that we’ve ever come across that is also a great throwing threat.”
“Not only is he shifty and mobile, but he’s a strong kid,” added Utes linebacker Karene Reid. “So arm tackles are not going to do it. You’ve really got to have great body position to take him down.”
Williams has thrown for 3,712 yards, 34 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He has also rushed for 351 yards and ten more scores. The Utes plus-23 turnover margin leads the entire nation, and it’s not even close.
“That’s really been the biggest factor in their success this season is how they take care of the football and how they take it away,” Whittingham said.
But since the USC game, when Utah surrendered 42 points, the Utes defense has only given up an average of 17 points per game.
“It took us a while to get going, but I really thing that was a turning point for our defense,” said defensive lineman Gabe Reid. “We rallied together and said, hey, it’s on us. We have the guys to make the plays.”
“It was just a matter of the defense maturing,” Whittingham said. “That game was the onset of the defense pivoting and making a reversal and playing well.”
One way to keep Williams and USC offense off the field is control the clock with the running game. Thanks to the development of Ja’Quendin Jackson, a former backup quarterback who just rushed for 117 yards and three touchdowns against Colorado, the Utes have the ability to do just that.
“I’m more comfortable,” said Jackson, who switched to running back mid-season. “I was a little jittery at first, but I’m more comfortable back there. It was natural to me. I played running back before I played quarterback, so it was very natural to me.”
So for the fourth time in five years, the Utes will play for the Pac-12 title. Even after tough losses to UCLA and Oregon this season, the Utes never gave up hope.
“That belief hasn’t wavered,” said quarterback Cam Rising, who will be playing in his second Pac-12 Championship. “We just never really stopped believing, even after a game went bad, it didn’t matter. We just kept the course and that’s why we’re here. We’ve just got to go execute and finish it out.”
“I think it speaks volumes,” Whittingham said. “We’re in the fourth in five years, fourth in four years really because again, nobody counts Covid. Nobody. So to be in that game for four years running is a real testament to our football team, the talent level of players that we have in the program.”
#11 Utah (9-3) and #4 USC (11-1) will play for the Pac-12 Championship Friday at 6:00 p.m. at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.