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Utah Utes football report card: Utes turn in best performance of the season at the perfect time

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Utah quarterback Cameron Rising wide receiver Britain Covey shake hands

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising, right, and wide receiver Britain Covey (18) celebrate the team’s win over Southern California in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Los Angeles.

Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

Utah beat USC 42-26, winning for the first time at the Los Angeles Coliseum and improving to 2-0 in Pac-12 play.

Here are the grades from the Utes’ win:


On Saturday, Utah’s offense was fun to watch.

The quarterback play of Cam Rising was great, the offensive line was protecting well and creating holes for the running backs, and Utah’s offense showed creativity in play-calling and willingness to take deep shots down the field — and connect on those deep shots.

Utah hasn’t shown this much spark in the “throw game,” as Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham likes to call it, since 2019 when Tyler Huntley was quarterback.

The Utes’ offense sorely needed this performance, just the second time in its last 10 games that Utah has thrown for over 300 yards.

Utah scored touchdowns on five of six drives from 3:48 in the first quarter to 9:13 in the third quarter, including four consecutive touchdown drives to extend Utah’s lead to 25 points after a Rising rushing touchdown.

Rising was 22 of 28 (78.5%), throwing for 306 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown and added 27 yards on the ground. It was a pretty perfect night for Rising, who became the fourth Ute quarterback since 2000 to throw for over 300 yards in a game while having a completion rate of 78% or better — the other three were Jordan Wynn against Colorado State in 2010, Brian Johnson against BYU in 2008, and Alex Smith, twice in 2004, against North Carolina and Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.

Rising was on target with the vast majority of his passes, did not throw an interception, and none of his passes came close to being picked off. He was in control of the offense throughout the entire game, looking confident and calm in the huddle.

Rising’s most impressive throws of the night were a 42-yard pass to Theo Howard, hitting him in stride, a 37-yard touchdown pass to Devaughn Vele off a flea-flicker, and a 28-yard pass that dropped right into Britain Covey’s hands. Utah hadn’t shown the ability to throw the deep ball this year until this game, and it should be a key part of the offense going forward.

Utah’s offense was able to get plenty of players involved in the passing game. Vele had four catches for 84 yards, Covey had five catches for 67 yards, Dalton Kincaid had three receptions for 40 yards and Brant Kuithe, Micah Bernard, Theo Howard, Money Parks, TJ Pledger and Cole Fotheringham all had catches.

Utah was 4-for-4 in the red zone, all touchdowns, which is an encouraging sign for the offense.

Tavion Thomas, who was buried on the depth chart after fumbling twice in Utah’s first two games, only got two combined handoffs against both San Diego State and Washington State. Against USC, the coaches put their trust in him and he rewarded that trust, rushing 15 times for 113 yards and a 43-yard touchdown. Bernard had five carries for 18 yards and Pledger had five carries for 14 yards. Utah has three capable running backs right now.

Utah’s offense clicked and turned in a near-perfect performance in a key road game.

Grade: A


For a change, it was Utah’s offense that won the game for the Utes, not the defense.

Utah allowed 493 yards of total offense, with 401 of that coming through the air. Utah’s run defense was solid, holding USC to 92 yards rushing, though USC — playing from behind for most of the game — passed 53 times and rushed 23 times.

Utah’s secondary matched up against one of the best, if not the best receiver in college football in Drake London. London had 16 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown and was fantastic.

The Utes’ defense bent in giving up over 400 passing yards, but it dialed in at key times — USC went 5-for-14 on third down.

After the Trojans scored a touchdown to go up 10-7 with 6:02 left in the second quarter, Utah’s defense was able to force USC to punt or turn the ball over on downs on their next four possessions. Meanwhile, Utah had four consecutive touchdown drives, and that was the difference in the game.

Key plays during that stretch included a Mika Tafua sack that forced a USC third-and-18 that was not converted, an interception by Vonte Davis on the next drive, and two forced incompletions on third downs on the next two drives that led to punts.

Clark Phillips III had nine tackles and three pass breakups, doing pretty well when asked to cover London. Freshman Kamo’i Latu had a team-high 10 tackles and had a pass breakup. Tafua had two sacks to lead the defensive line.

It was by no means a perfect showing by Utah’s defense, but they got the job done in key situations.

Grade: B+

Special Teams

Utah did not have to attempt a field goal all game, which is a good thing. All kicker Jordan Noyes had to do in this game was kick extra points. Noyes was 6-for-6. Utah’s kick coverage was solid, with the longest USC return being 21 yards. Utah’s punt coverage was excellent, as Gary Bryant Jr. had two punt returns for -3 yards.

Cameron Peasley punted five times for an average of 37.6 yards, with a long of 45, but he did have a 28-yard punt that gave the Trojans the ball at the 50-yard line. On the ensuing drive, USC scored a touchdown to go up 10-7.

Grade: B


Utah finally broke the curse of the Coliseum, winning at the stadium for the first time in program history. They improved to 2-0 in conference play. By itself, that would be impressive. But under the circumstances, with Aaron Lowe murdered just two weeks ago — the second Utah football player, along with Ty Jordan, to die in the past year — it’s downright incredible. This team has grieved the death of two of their teammates, their brothers and friends, and to turn in the best performance of the season just two weeks removed from Lowe’s death says a lot about these players and this coaching staff.

The team played inspired, they played together and they played for Lowe and Jordan.

Grade: A