‘Unwavering belief’: How Utes QB Cam Rising found redemption
Against Florida, Rising threw a last-minute interception in the end zone. Against No. 7 USC, Rising ran into the end zone — twice — in the final minute
It was historic.
The Trojans defense ran into a Bad Moon Rising in Salt Lake City.
“We’ve got a great locker room and it’s a family atmosphere. I think that right there establishes that feeling of trust and belief in your teammates. We’ve got to keep that rolling and make sure we keep talking about it.” — Utah QB Cam Rising
Rising completed 30 of 44 passes for 415 yards and two touchdowns. It marked the first time a Utes QB has thrown for more than 400 yards since Brian Johnson accomplished the feat by throwing for 417 yards against San Diego State on Oct. 15, 2005 — exactly 17 years to the day before Rising’s big night.
Rising also ran 11 times for 60 yards and scored three more touchdowns — including the game-winning TD run and two-point conversion with 48 seconds remaining, giving Utah its first lead of the game.
In all, Rising accounted for five touchdowns against the Trojans, who suffered their first loss of the season.
The origins of what Rising was able to do last Saturday may have begun in the bowels of the Rose Bowl a week earlier.
When Rising entered the small interview room with a handful of reporters in Pasadena after a gut-wrenching 42-32 loss to UCLA, the situation seemed bleak for the Utes.
Their hopes of repeating as Pac-12 champs had just taken a big hit. But when asked about how his team could right the ship, Rising didn’t flinch.
“You’ve just got to have unwavering belief and make sure that you’re there for your guys no matter what,” he calmly told reporters. “I still think that we have our best football ahead of us. We’ve got to make sure that we put it together and really execute throughout the week so that we’re flying around come Saturdays.”
Two days later, back on campus, Rising repeated that mantra of “unwavering belief.”
“First, we’ve got to have unwavering belief in everything that we’re doing and make sure that the only thing that really matters is what’s going on inside the building and focus on that. Just focus on getting better and being ready to go for this weekend,” he said. “We’ve got a great locker room and it’s a family atmosphere. I think that right there establishes that feeling of trust and belief in your teammates. We’ve got to keep that rolling and make sure we keep talking about it.”
Then after Saturday’s victory, he evoked “unwavering belief” yet again, adding, “Guys just didn’t stop believing. We had a common goal of wanting to go out here and execute and be clean and do everything we can, because having Ty (Jordan) and Aaron (Lowe) on your helmet makes it that much easier to dig deep and do everything you can to get the ‘W’.”
Wide receiver Devaughn Vele said Rising not only provides playmaking ability, but he also is a voice that provides confidence and assurance when things are going in the wrong direction.
The Utes could have given up hope after that setback to UCLA. They could have folded after trailing 14-0, 21-7 and 28-14 against USC.
But Rising wouldn’t allow it.
“I love his leadership,” Vele said. “He’s the one always bringing the group together. That’s what we need on the team, especially when we’re going through adversity. Having that guy that can be vocal and bring up the guys is what we need in tough situations.”
On Utah’s final drive Saturday, trailing 42-35, Rising engineered a 15-play 75-yard drive that burned up five minutes and 27 seconds on the clock. But even that had some rough moments.
That final possession included four incomplete passes. It also featured four completions to tight end Dalton Kincaid, for eight yards, 12 yards, 19 yards and 11 yards, respectively.
The Utes faced fourth-and-goal at the USC one-yard line. He took the snap and ran right up the middle behind his offensive line, knifing his way into the end zone to pull Utah to within 42-41 and 48 seconds left on the clock.
“Everyone blocked it up,” the QB explained. “So it was easy for me.”
On a night like this, with both offenses nearly unstoppable, coach Kyle Whittingham had predetermined that if his team scored a touchdown, the Utes were going for two. And the win.
On the two-point try, Rising caught the snap, dropped back, then ran toward the goal line, breaking a tackle and bursting into the end zone to make it 43-42. The gutsy call paid off.
“I dropped back and I went to my first read and it was covered up,” Rising said. “I went to my second read and it was covered up. I had to move up in the pocket. Green grass in front of me, so I just took advantage of it.”
And for Rising, there was a measure of redemption in those moments.
Maybe Rising’s “unwavering belief” can be traced back to Gainesville, Florida, as well.
The waning seconds Saturday against USC were reminiscent of the season opener at Florida back on Sept. 3, when the Utes trailed 29-26. Utah had the ball on the Gators six-yard line with 22 seconds remaining with a chance to win the game.
Rising dropped back and tried to find Kincaid, who slipped in the end zone. The pass was picked off by Florida’s Amari Burney, and the Utes fell by three points.
For Whittingham, the outcome against USC was “absolutely” gratifying, particularly considering what happened with Rising against the Gators in Gainesville.
“We called a play and the ball would be in his hands to either find an open receiver or tuck it and get into the end zone. He did just that,” Whittingham said of the two-point conversion Saturday. “He’s been so incredible for us ever since he took over in Game 4 last year. It’s been a great feeling to have him at the controls of the offense.”
For years, Utah has built its brand, and its identity, on a dominating defense. Now, the Utes have an explosive offense, as evidenced by the win over USC.
“It’s great to have a high-powered offense, which is what we have. It all starts with Cam. The offensive line never gets enough credit. I should mention them because they did a great job protecting the passer,” Whittingham said. “They did a phenomenal job. We ran just enough to keep them off-balanced. It was enough to not be one-dimensional. And, of course, Cam threw for over 400 yards.”
Meanwhile, Kincaid enjoyed a historic night as well. He was targeted 16 times and he caught 16 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown.
Kincaid finished one reception shy of the single-game FBS record for a tight end. New Mexico’s Emilio Vallez had 17 catches against UTEP in 1967 and Northwestern’s Jon Harvey had 17 catches against Michigan in 1982.
Rising said the rapport between himself and Kincaid has been years in the making.
“Just a relationship that we’ve been developing since he stepped on campus in 2020. It’s taken off,” he said. “He’s the guy to throw the ball to. You see what he did tonight when he touches the ball like that. He makes plays and he extends them. He can do it all. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re getting him the ball.”
Rising, and Kincaid, ensured that Saturday was a night that Utah faithful won’t soon forget — the night that Rising orchestrated a come-from-behind triumph over USC in thrilling, amazing and historic fashion.
Amid adversity this season, Rising’s “unwavering belief” is being fulfilled for the Utes as they seek another Pac-12 championship.