SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – It was a slow start, but man, did Utah finish strong.
Utah oustcored Arizona State in the second half, 28-0, to run away to a 35-21 victory, taking over sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South.
Cam Rising completed 21 of 33 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 59 yards on the ground and another touchdowns, as Utah won its third straight game. They are the only undefeated team in Pac-12 play at 3-0.
“We got everything we want right there in front of us,” Rising said. “We just got to go take it.”
Tavion Thomas added 84 yards rushing and a touchdown, while Brant Kuithe caught two touchdown passes, as Utah won its second straight game since the death of defensive back Aaron Lowe.
Trailing 21-7 at halftime, the Utes stormed out of the gates, scoring touchdowns on all four of its possessions in the second half to run away to the victory.
“So proud of this team,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “At halftime, we hadn’t played very well in the first half. Obviously, Arizona State had played very well. We left some points on the field at the end of the first half. We were down there and were at least expecting to get a field goal but then we had the turnover.
“We rallied together at halftime. Those guys believed, those players believed. They were not going to be denied. It was 28-0 in the second half. Phenomenal job by our offense. In the first half, we didn’t run the ball as effectively as we needed to. In the second half, we were outstanding running the football. Defensively, we stiffened up and started taking some things away.”
Rising completed 13-of-15 pass attempts after halftime while leading the comeback.
“Just came together in the locker room,” Rising said. “We know what we need to do. It’s not something that we’re running from. We have to attack this thing. We just talked about it and the defense did a great job of putting us in positions and we kept getting in positions to score.”
“Got a lot of faith in Cam Rising,” Whittingham said. “He’s a great leader for us and the players believe in him.”
The Utes pulled within a touchdown on a 7-yard run by Thomas. Then Rising tossed touchdown passes to Kuithe on back-to-back drives to give Utah its first lead in the fourth quarter. A 20-yard strike to Kuithe tied the game midway through the third quarter. Then, a wide-open Kuithe walked a 7-yard pass into the end zone untouched, putting the Utes up 28-21.
T.J. Pledger’s 7-yard run gave Utah a two-touchdown cushion with 2:39 left.
“They continued to make first downs, they went on substantial drives, and we couldn’t get off the field and it kills you,” Sun Devils coach Herm Edwards said. “Defensively, it puts you in a bad way.”
Arizona State totaled 97 yards in the second half and averaged 3.3 yards per play. The Utes were energized on defense by what they were able to do on offense.
“We just want to keep the juice and the momentum in our favor,” linebacker Devin Lloyd said. “Seeing those guys go down there and do what they do, it just gets us pumped up.”
Utah’s offense was extremely balanced, churning out 208 yards on the ground, while amassing 247 yards through the air.
Devaughn Vele led the Utes in receiving with three catches for 57 yards.
The Sun Devils struck first on their opening drive, going up 7-0 on a 7-yard pass from Daniels to Jalin Conyers that capped a 12-play drive. Conyers walked into the end zone after being left wide open on the goal line.
Utah answered on its first drive, tying the score at 7-all on a 9-yard run by Rising. Rising converted a pair of third downs to keep the drive alive, running 12 yards on a keeper and connecting with Britain Covey on a 10-yard pass.
Daniels put Arizona State back up by two touchdowns in the second quarter.
The Sun Devils reclaimed the lead on Daniels’ 2-yard bootleg. LV Bunkley-Shelton set up the score a play earlier when he broke a tackle on a short pass and rumbled 59 yards before finally being brought down. Then Daniels tossed a 15-yard pass to Curtis Hodges to extend Arizona State’s lead to 21-7 with 52 seconds left in the half.
“In the first half we were hot, but we couldn’t get nothing going in the second half on either side of the ball,” Daniels said.
Utah drove deep into Sun Devil territory twice in the second quarter. Both possessions ended in interceptions thrown by Rising.
Utah (4-2, 3-0 Pac-12) next visits Oregon State Saturday at 5:30 p.m.