During recent late-night games at Rice-Eccles Stadium, sometimes when the offense takes the field, the soundtrack blaring over the loudspeakers is the song “Bad Moon Rising.”

That’s fitting, because quarterback Cam Rising has done plenty of good things since he took over the starting job in late September, leading Utah to a 44-24 win over UCLA last Saturday and to a 4-1 record and first place in the Pac-12 South standings. 

Utes on the air

Utah (5-3, 4-1)

at Stanford (3-5, 2-4)

Friday, 8:30 p.m. MDT

Stanford Stadium


Radio: ESPN 700

The Utes visit Stanford Friday (8:30 p.m. MDT, FS1). 

“He’s a great leader. When he gets on the field, everybody listens to him,” said tight end Brant Kuithe. “How he plays the quarterback position is how you want a quarterback to play. He demands excellence from everybody. No matter what, he’s so dynamic and he’s a great football player.”

It’s been a remarkable season for Rising, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury almost one year ago; worked hard to rehab his shoulder; battled for the starting job with Charlie Brewer; kept a positive attitude when he wasn’t named the starter and was still voted a team captain; made the most of his chance when he replaced Brewer in the second half against San Diego State; and was named the starter after Brewer left the program. 

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On Tuesday, Rising was named a semifinalist for the 2021 Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Award. 

One of the other three semifinalists happens to be Stanford linebacker Ricky Miezan, who was limited to only seven games in his first three seasons due to a pair of season-ending injuries. This season, Miezan is second on his team in tackles. 

Rising has completed 116 of 181 passes for 1,318 yards, with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. 

“Cam’s a guy that brings a lot of confidence to the offense and to the team,” said wide receiver Theo Howard. “When he steps out there, you know good things are going to happen because he’s very confident in himself and that’s projected onto other guys. You know as a receiver, everybody’s a valuable option. He’ll pass it to whoever. And he’s a winner.”

Rising has also rushed for 300 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries as Utah has recorded four consecutive games with more than 450 yards of offense. 

“Cam had another exceptional night,” coach Kyle Whittingham said after the Utes’ victory over UCLA. 

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While Rising has breathed life into Utah’s passing game, he also provides another dimension because of his dynamic running ability. He scored a 12-yard TD run against the Bruins. 

In a 42-34 loss at Oregon State, Rising rushed 10 times for 73 yards, including a 21-yard scramble. 

After that game, Whittingham was concerned about some hits that Rising absorbed while running. 

“That’s a learning process. We’re comfortable with Cam running the ball because he gives us so much when he does. But he has to use better judgment at the end of the runs and take some of those hits off of himself by stepping out of bounds or sliding, whatever the case may be,” Whittingham said. “He’s so competitive. He wants to win as bad as anybody I’ve ever been around. He wants to do anything he can to help.

“At times, he has put himself in some situations where you’re just hoping he gets up because those are some pretty big hits. Hopefully, going forward, we see him continue to add that 40-75-yard range of yardage in the run game. But not take the hit at the end of the play. Be smarter and avoid that.”

Kuithe said he’s not concerned about Rising’s running. 

“He’s big enough, he just needs to slide a little more. He’s a lot bigger than most DBs,” he said. “I give him the benefit of the doubt but sometimes he needs to protect himself.”

Whittingham said Rising is smart about when he chooses to tuck the ball and run.

“He’s made good decisions each time. What he brings to the table in the run game is part of what makes him so effective. He’s in the top 10 in the country in QBR. That’s your best barometer of how a quarterback is playing. He’s playing really well.”

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising looks to throw during game against USC on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Los Angeles. Since becoming the starter, Rising has guided the Utes to the top of the Pac-12 South standings. | Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

Meanwhile, last Saturday, Rising pulled another weapon from his arsenal — his punting ability. 

Rising had two quick kicks against UCLA. He averaged 39 per punt and placed both inside the Bruins’ 10-yard line. That may have surprised most people, but Rising has plenty of experience when it comes to punting. 

“I actually used to do that all the time in high school,” he said. “It was nice to make it come to fruition out there. It was fun.”

The Utes had two punts blocked the previous week in a loss at Oregon State, so they adjusted. 

“It had a lot to do with that,” Whittingham said. “You get two punts blocked, and you’re not going to have a lot of confidence. If you have an opportunity to utilize a quick kick, especially where Cam was a punter in high school. He’s got a good background in it.”

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Rising said he practiced a few punts last week during practice, knowing that it could be a possibility last week. 

Will there be more quick kicks in the future for Utah? 

“We’ll see. It certainly paid dividends Saturday night,” Whittingham said. “Cam was the punter for his high school team. It’s nothing new to him. Quick kicks are not extraordinary. A lot of teams around the country do it and have success with it. We’ll see where it fits from week to week. … It’s a good weapon in particular in the age of analytics, where more people are going for it on fourth down in that 40-40 range on fourth-and-short. But the quarterback has to feel comfortable doing it.”

These days, Rising is feeling comfortable about pretty much everything when it comes to helping the Utes win games. 

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