How Tavion Thomas led one of the most prolific rushing nights in Utah football history
Thomas, who ran for 177 yards, scored four rushing touchdowns for the second week in a row — that’s eight TDs in two games
STANFORD, Calif. — Utah flat-out embarrassed Stanford Friday night.
In the Utes’ 52-7 smashing of the Cardinal, they rushed for 441 yards — the fourth-highest total in school history — and had three running backs eclipse the 100-yard mark.
Tavion Thomas, who ran for 177 yards, scored four rushing touchdowns for the second week in a row — that’s eight TDs in two games.
And T.J. Pledger, who finished with 107 yards and a touchdown, recorded the longest run from scrimmage in school history, a 96-yard scamper. Micah Bernard had 110 yards and a touchdown. Chris Curry had 20 yards on four carries.
Stanford coach David Shaw was disappointed in his defense, which gave up a total of 581 yards of total offense to Utah.
“Defensively, we’ve got to have a lot of discussions on how to stop the run. All year it’s been close. (Friday) wasn’t close,” he said. “As much as anything, we missed a ton of tackles. Missed a lot of tackles. It’s one thing to have gaps run through, but when you miss tackles, that’s why you give up the big, big plays. Inexcusable.”
Ute coach Kyle Whittingham, on the other hand, liked what he saw from his running backs.
“We were hitting on all cylinders tonight. Run game was in high gear,” he said. “That was really the key to the game, was our ability to run the football efficiently and effectively and for a bunch of yards.”
It took Utah a while to find a lead running back this season, but the Utes have found one in Thomas, and they have plenty of depth at the position.
“We feel really good about the running back room, like we’ve been saying all year. It’s the point now with Tavion is the lead back. He is the primary ball carrier and he is going to get the most carries most weeks, barring unforeseen circumstances,” Whittingham said.
“Micah Bernard and T.J. Pledger both added some big plays, and Chris Curry came in and showed what he could do in the second half. He did a nice job. We feel we’ve got a good stable of backs, and they’re doing a great job for us right now.”
To what does Thomas attribute the dominance of the run game?
“I’d say just to the coaches that we’ve been working every day,” he said. “We stay after and do extra work and the boys been working and they been in the playbook, we all have, so it just keep working for us.”
For the second straight week, Utah elected to receive the opening kickoff and promptly marched down field and scored. The Utes have scored on their opening drives in each of the last four games.
“They’ve been playing with such confidence on that side of the ball and the execution level has been so high that we figured that it was another good opportunity to start fast and see if we can put points on the board in the first drive,” Whittingham said.
Quarterback Cam Rising appreciates the trust Whittingham has in the offense.
“I think just Coach Whitt has a tremendous amount of confidence in this offense and just knows we like to start fast and we like to get things going early, and shoutout to O-block,” Rising said. “They did a great job with our first drive, set the tone, really dominated up front, and that’s why we ended up getting in the end zone.”
While Utah and Stanford are known for being the two most physical teams in the Pac-12, the Utes are now 3-0 at Stanford Stadium since joining the conference in 2011. Utah also won here in 2018 and 2014.
Whittingham couldn’t explain why the Utes have had so much success at Stanford.
“We seem to have played well against Stanford. I think they’re probably the team we’ve played the least in the Pac-12 since we joined,” he said. “Anyway, our guys, for whatever reason, have played well when we play Stanford. I think part of is, they get fired up for the game because they know it’s two of the more physical teams in the conference.
“They’re a lot like us as far as what they pride themselves on and what they hang their hat on. I think our guys understand and respect that and want to make sure that we let them know that we play with physicality as well.”
For Shaw, it’s back to the drawing board. His team has dropped four consecutive games.
“We’re in different stages as a team right now. We are not playing as well as we can,” he said. “Utah is playing very well. They played even better tonight, and we played worse. That’s why the score is the way it was.”