By outscoring then-No. 18 Arizona State 28-0 in the second half last Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Utah capped another emotional week.
It started Monday when the Utes boarded a charter flight for Dallas to attend the memorial service of defensive back Aaron Lowe, who died Sept. 26. It ended with the Utes dominating the final two quarters against ASU and earning a 35-21 victory.
Utah (4-2, 3-0) has now won three consecutive games. The Utes sit alone in first place in the Pac-12 South and they’re the only team in the league with a perfect conference record.
According to the players and coaches, the Utes are playing for something greater than themselves. They’re also playing for their fallen teammates, Lowe and Ty Jordan, who died last December.
“I think they’re the reason why we’ve been so much together,” said linebacker Devin Lloyd. “We came together. I firmly believe that they’re with us and strengthening each and every one of us. They’re bringing us closer together.”
Quarterback Cam Rising said the Utes are “100 percent, no doubt about that” playing in memory of Lowe and Jordan.
In the locker room after Saturday’s win, coach Kyle Whittingham and his players celebrated wildly.
“It was awesome. To see them success and play the way they did, that’s what they’re capable of … to see our guys do what they did and the resolve they played with, I couldn’t be prouder,” he said.
Whittingham was asked where Saturday’s victory ranks in terms of other huge wins he’s experienced at Utah.
“I can’t tell you how rewarding it is. Our players deserved it. They had a great week of practice,” he said. “It’s got to be in the top 10 of wins since I’ve been here as far as satisfying wins.”
Whittingham said the tragedies that have befallen the program over the past year have made a major impact.
“It’s really affected quite a few people. They’ve taken a look at themselves and their work ethic and how much they’ve been given and just finding a way to give more,” he said. “Not that we had a bunch of lazy guys or anything like that. Not that the tragedy or anything like that will translate into wins. That’s not necessarily the case. But I think everyone took a hard look inside themselves and figured out ways where they can individually get better. Then collectively, as those guys get better individually, we can get better as a team.”
Safety Vonte Davis is savoring every moment he gets to be on the football field.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “I go through every day trying to thank God for being alive, really, and just be given this opportunity to play this sport I love.”
Asked what’s changed for the Utes since they dropped those two straight games in September, Rising said, “I think we just needed to know how to take adversity and really know how to do it together. Not focus on pointing fingers at what we’re doing wrong or trying to figure out this, this and that. But just staying together in those situations.”
Utah faced adversity again at halftime Saturday, as they trailed 21-7. In the second half, the Utes looked like a different team both offensively and defensively. They rushed for 145 yards in the second half and held the Sun Devils to 97 yards of total offense.
“It was obviously a game with two halves, and they got the better of us in the second half,” said ASU coach Herm Edwards. “They got four touchdowns on us offensively, we could hardly make first downs. We couldn’t move the ball to counter what they were doing to us and going into halftime, I told them that this is a second half football team. You need to look out and play. They are good in the second half, and we didn’t match it on either side of the ball.”
Between the third and fourth quarters, with the Utes rallying, Lowe was honored with an emotional video presentation and the crowd responded.
“It was amazing. I love this institution because it’s so much more than football,” Lloyd said. “They genuinely care about everybody. They do things the right way ... It was great for everyone to see and it was great for our team.”
Lloyd added that the offense’s success in the second half rubbed off on the defense.
“We wanted to keep the momentum in our favor. Seeing those guys go down there and do what they do, it gets us on the sideline pumped up,” Lloyd said. “It’s infectious. Positivity is infectious and it spreads throughout the whole team, whether you’re playing or not.”
The Sun Devils dropped out of the Associated Press poll released Sunday.
Meanwhile, Utah will go back on the road Saturday (5:30 p.m., MDT, Pac-12 Network) when it visits Oregon State, which had a bye last weekend.
“I’m proud of our guys. We’re sitting in a great spot right now. A lot of football left. Tough games,” Whittingham said. “Where we are right now is a great spot. We’ve got to continue to practice like we have been and have the same mentality and the same attitude and the same competitive spirit and see what happens.”