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Fresh off big win at USC, Utah’s week includes Aaron Lowe’s memorial service, facing No. 18 Arizona State

The Utes host the only other team in the Pac-12 that has not lost a conference game — the Sun Devils — Saturday night.

SHARE Fresh off big win at USC, Utah’s week includes Aaron Lowe’s memorial service, facing No. 18 Arizona State
Utah players celebrate a win over Southern California.

Utah players celebrate a win over Southern California in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Los Angeles.

Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Now that Utah has improved to 2-0 in Pac-12 play after Saturday’s dominating 42-26 victory at USC, earning the program’s first-ever win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the next test features a battle between the league’s final two undefeated teams. 

The Utes (3-2, 2-0) host the only other Pac-12 team that has not lost a conference game — No. 18 Arizona State — Saturday (8 p.m. MDT, ESPN).

The Sun Devils (5-1, 3-0) are coming off a 28-10 home triumph over Stanford last Friday night. 

Monday, meanwhile, Utah will continue to honor defensive back Aaron Lowe, who died Sept. 26

Yes, it will be another unconventional week for the Utes. The team is taking a charter flight to Texas Monday to attend the memorial services while they are preparing for a visit from ASU. 

“It’s another challenge,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “We’re going to the funeral ... we’re not going to miss that. It’s something that we will do and we’ll handle it. We have to.”

Against the Trojans, the Utes delivered an impressive performance, scoring 28 unanswered points in the second and third quarters. 

For the past two weeks, as the Utes were grieving the loss of one of their own for the second time in nine months, Whittingham noticed that the resolve of his players could carry them through. 

Days after Lowe’s tragic death, during the bye week, his mother addressed the team.

“I had a feeling through the week of practice this week. Last week we had a bye. We had some practices and it was very low-key and you could see that they were struggling,” Whittingham said. “Then they got back on the field this week. Aaron Lowe’s mom came and talked to the team last week and said, ‘Hey, you guys got to carry on, you got a season to play.’ So this week’s practices were very good. I had an inclination going into the game that they would play well and they exceeded even what I was expecting.”

After Saturday’s win, Utah’s players and coaches smiled and laughed and celebrated after two heart-wrenching weeks. 

“Overall, a very nice win. Credit to our players for their preparation and overcoming adversity,” Whittingham said. “We’ve had a lot on our plate the last couple of weeks. We still have a funeral that we’ll be attending on Monday in Texas. We’ll try to get some closure on our loss. I’m so proud of the guys, how they hung in there and played with such passion and such inspired football.”

“I feel like there were a lot of ups and downs, with emotions, but I felt like we were able to come together as a team,” said defensive end Mika Tafua, who had two sacks and a pass breakup against USC, about the past two weeks. “Really, we lean on each other, so that really helped and we saw the results (Saturday).”

Since the offseason, the Utes (3-2, 2-0) have had their sights set on a Pac-12 championship. Though they dropped two nonconference games in September — the two teams they lost to are No. 19 BYU (5-1) and No. 24 San Diego State (5-0) — Utah remains in firm control of its own destiny in league play. 

“We’ve got a great situation, knowing that we’re ahead in the South right now and we’ve just got to make sure that we play each and every game like it’s a championship game, because that’s pretty much what it is at this point,” said quarterback Cam Rising, who completed 22 of 28 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns against USC. “We have to stay with what we’re doing.”

Utah Arizona State TV box

Utes on the air

No. 18 Arizona State (5-1, 3-0)

at Utah (3-2, 2-0)

Saturday, 8 p.m. MDT

Rice-Eccles Stadium


Radio: ESPN 700

The Utes limited mistakes Saturday. After fumbling seven times against Washington State in their previous game on Sept. 25, they had zero turnovers against the Trojans. 

How did the Utes manage to fix their fumble issues while dealing with the tragedy within the program? 

“A ton of credit to the players, the upperclassmen, the leadership of the football team did a great job leading and making sure that they set the bar and the expectations,” Whittingham said. “We’ve had a lot of communication on the team. The players have had a lot of input  with how we’ve handled the last couple of weeks. Credit to them. I think they handled it as good as it could have possibly been handled.”

Cornerback Clark Phillips said that while the team will be taking a meaningful detour to Texas Monday, it’s important that it stays on this same path. 

“We just have to play it day by day; use this to make us stronger as a team. I feel like that’s what got us this win (Saturday),” he said. “We said in the beginning of the week when things happened, it’s either gonna divide us or it’s gonna bring us closer together as a family and we’re choosing to let this bring us closer together.”