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Utah football report card: Utes play nearly perfect game in blowout of Stanford

Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising hands the ball off to running back Tavion Thomas.
Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) hands the ball off to running back Tavion Thomas (9) during the game against the Stanford Cardinal in Stanford, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

It’s hard to play a better game than Utah did in its 52-7 rout of Stanford on Friday.

The Utes controlled the game from their first drive and proceeded to score touchdowns on five of their first six drives. Utah’s defense was stout all game, getting in the Cardinal backfield and holding Stanford to just one touchdown.

Here are the grades from the Utes’ win:

Offense

Coming into the game against a Stanford team that has the worst run defense in the Pac-12, the Utes had an opportunity for a big night on the ground. Utah ended up having one of the best rushing games in school history, with the tandem of the offensive line and running backs firing on all cylinders.

Tavion Thomas continued his incredible season, as he rushed for four touchdowns and 177 yards, upping his season rushing touchdown total to 14, just one away from tying the school single-season record and two away from breaking it.

Thomas showed excellent vision and his quick burst of speed, encapsulated in his 58-yard touchdown run when he evaded two would-be tacklers in the backfield and then ran to the house. He averaged nearly 9 yards per carry on Friday night.

Micah Bernard and T.J. Pledger also had over 100 yards rushing, with 110 and 107 yards, respectively. It was the first time ever that the Utes had three 100-yard rushers in a game. Pledger’s 96-yard touchdown run featured a stiff arm as he turned in Utah’s longest-ever run from scrimmage.

Utah’s offensive line has improved so much since the beginning of the year, and Friday was the unit’s best game yet. The offensive line, led by Nick Ford, delivered multiple pancake blocks and huge holes all night for the running backs to run through. Utah also did not allow a sack.

Ford — who again started at left guard — Bam Olaseni, Paul Maile, Sataoa Laumea and Braeden Daniels were all fantastic, with exception of a high snap from Maile that Cam Rising couldn’t corral, leading to a turnover.

Rising was 13-for-22 for 140 yards and a 112.5 passer rating. He wasn’t exceptional, but with Utah’s run game going, he didn’t need to be. He missed on a few throws but also converted on five third downs through the air. On the high snap, Rising couldn’t grab it, then couldn’t pick it up on the ground, leading to the turnover.

Overall, led by the run game, Utah’s offense put up the most points it has all year.

Grade: A

Defense

Stanford’s offense, which came into the game ranked third in the Pac-12 in passing yards, was clearly not the same with the absence of starting quarterback Tanner McKee, who was out with an injury.

Jack West took the majority of snaps at quarterback for the Cardinal, as he passed 18 times (Stanford passed 23 times in total). Isaiah Sanders came in as quarterback on some third down situations, mostly to run.

Stanford entered the game averaging only 92 rushing yards per game, and Utah stifled the Cardinal at the line of scrimmage or behind it all night. In the first half, Stanford only gained 5 rushing yards and just 28 yards of total offense as nearly every Stanford run went nowhere.

The Cardinal finished with 83 total rushing yards and 168 total offensive yards.

Utah had an astounding 14 tackles for loss and five sacks. The Utes forced two turnovers — a leaping interception by Devin Lloyd at point blank range on Stanford’s 4-yard line which was returned for a touchdown and a strip sack by Miki Suguturaga that that caused a fumble.

Lloyd led the way for the Utes’ defense, as he usually does. He had nine tackles, one sack, four tackles for loss, an interception and a pass breakup. Lloyd continues to prove why he is one of the best linebackers in the country.

With the game basically in hand at halftime, the defense eased up a bit, allowing 140 yards, but Stanford only scored seven points. The Cardinal’s only touchdown drive was extended after a third-down pass interference penalty by the Utes, but besides that, Utah’s defense was pretty much perfect.

Grade: A

Special teams

Jadon Redding was the Utes’ placekicker Friday. Redding started the season before being benched for Jordan Noyes. After Noyes missed field goals in the Oregon State and UCLA games, it looks like Redding is back. Redding made a 29-yard field goal at the end of the first half and all seven extra points.

Britain Covey had a decent return game, fielding four punts for 42 yards, including a 16-yard return. Sophomore Michael Williams punted away Utah’s only punt of the night, for 40 yards. It was one of the best games all season for Utah’s special teams, which have struggled all year.

Grade: A-