Up until about a month ago, Utah quarterback Cameron Rising was almost an afterthought to most people outside the program.
Utes on the air
No. 18 Arizona State (5-1, 3-0)
at Utah (3-2, 2-0)
Saturday, 8 p.m. MDT
Radio: ESPN 700
At the time, he was a backup to then-starter Charlie Brewer.
Now, it’s hard to imagine where the Utes might be without him.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore led Utah to a 42-26 rout of USC last Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — the program’s first-ever win at the venerable venue.
Rising completed 22 of 28 passes for 306 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He recorded a quarterback rating of 205.7, outplaying USC’s Kedon Slovis, who had a quarterback rating of 134.5.
Seven of Rising’s 22 completions went for 15 or more yards. He also rushed six times for 27 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Throughout the game, he was unflappable in leading the Utes to a dominating victory.
“He is an alpha dog. He is a leader in every sense of the word. He does command the room. He’s the leader of the offense,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “Between him and Brit Covey, those are our two captains on offense who were elected by their peers. He is exactly what you want in a quarterback when you talk about the ‘it’ factor and a field general that you want leading the troops.”
With the win, Utah improved to 3-2 overall and 2-0 in Pac-12 play. The Utes host No. 18 Arizona State Saturday (8 p.m. MDT, ESPN).
It’s clear that Rising has settled into his role as the starting QB.
“There’s a lot more chemistry being developed with the guys and the entire offense as a whole,” he said. “I’m getting a lot more comfortable with everything.”
Tough to defend
USC interim coach Donte Williams acknowledged that Rising caused his defense problems.
“We won some early downs on first down but still got them in some third-and-manageable situations and they capitalized,” he said. “For a moment there at quarterback, it was like he just couldn’t miss, whether it was over the top or underneath coverage, we weren’t doing enough.”
For his efforts last weekend, Rising was named to the Davey O’Brien Award’s weekly Great 8 and he was added to the award’s midseason watch list. He is eligible to be named as a semifinalist, finalist or the winner of the 2021 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award. Rising was also named the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Week.
Not bad for a guy who started the season on the bench.
But to his coaches and teammates, Rising was always a major part of this team, evidenced by the fact he was voted as a captain before the season kicked off.
“He brings a lot of swag to the team. If you watch the way that Cam works, and how he carries himself, he has a little swag to him,” said defensive lineman Mika Tafua. “That’s what I like about him. He definitely has a lot of leadership. He’s able to be influential and contagious with the people around him. That’s why we voted him captain. Although he didn’t start at the beginning of the year, he’s a good leader.”
Don’t forget that Rising earned the starting job a year ago during the truncated 2020 season. But in the opener, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury early in the second quarter against USC.
During the offseason, Rising worked tirelessly, rehabbing his shoulder, while Brewer, a Baylor transfer, took most of the snaps in the spring.
Rising pushed Brewer during fall camp but Brewer ultimately was named the starter.
Rising to the rescue
But when Utah played against San Diego State on Sept. 18, the Ute offense sputtered and almost flatlined, failing to score an offensive touchdown in the first three quarters.
With the Aztecs leading 24-10, Rising replaced Brewer late in the third quarter and eventually jolted the offense to life, completing 19 of 32 passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns while rushing five times for 46 yards in Utah’s triple-overtime loss.
“I miss Charlie, I love Charlie, I still have a tremendous amount of respect for him — but it’s next man up and that’s how it has to be. That’s what we did. The team took to it and rode off with it. No issues there.” — Utah QB Cam Rising on Charlie Brewer
Days later, Brewer left the program and Rising officially became the Utes’ new starter.
Rising called Brewer’s departure “unfortunate,” but he’s risen to the occasion.
“I miss Charlie, I love Charlie, I still have a tremendous amount of respect for him — but it’s next man up and that’s how it has to be,” Rising said. “That’s what we did. The team took to it and rode off with it. No issues there.”
In his first start of the season against Washington State, the offense didn’t look great — there were seven fumbles, including three that were lost.
Then last Saturday at USC, the offense exploded with 28 unanswered points in the second and third quarters.
One of the key plays came in unconventional fashion. With one minute left in the first half, Utah moved into Trojans territory. The plan was to run the ball, then stop the clock and attempt a field goal.
However, the coaching staff noticed that Rising was in the wrong formation.
A timeout was called and Whittingham wanted an explanation. Rising said he thought the coaches had called a flea flicker.
“I said, ‘Great call. Let’s go with it.’ I talked to (offensive coordinator) Andy (Ludwig) about it and he said, ‘Let’s go with it,” Whittingham said.
That’s when Rising completed a 37-yard touchdown strike to Devaughn Vele on a flea flicker with 10 seconds left in the half and Utah led 21-10 at halftime.
“That was a huge momentum play. Getting that momentum going into halftime was gigantic,” Whittingham said. “Wish we could take credit for that play but it was Cam Rising misreading the wrist band and us finding out about it and then sticking with it because it seemed like the right thing to do.”
Beating USC in Los Angeles was especially sweet for Rising, who hails from Ventura, California. Rising wasn’t recruited by the Trojans. But he was able to beat them — the same team that knocked him out for the season in 2020.
Since that time, Rising remained upbeat and prepared himself for any opportunity that might present itself.
That was something his teammates noticed and respected.
“It’s really hard to be named captain when coming off an injury … That’s where I really admire Cam. He’s been in rehab all spring and most of the summer. And yet, he’s still taken the time to be with the guys, and take that leadership role,” Covey said. “The other thing about Cam is, he’s very jovial. You will never see Cam without a huge smile on his face. To me, he looks like a “VeggieTales” character. He’s constantly smiling with his mustache, and his long hair, very approachable. I’m really proud of him for being named captain.”
Throughout the offseason, the Utes kept talking about how important it would be to have two good quarterbacks. They were right.
Rising has been just what the Utah offense needed.