PASADENA, Calif. — Utah running back Tavion Thomas enjoyed his best performance of the season so far Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl.
His 91 rushing yards and a touchdown certainly weren’t enough in a 42-32 loss to No. 18 UCLA, but he was a bright spot for the Ute offense.
Thomas has been through the death of a family member this season and endured a first-half suspension against Arizona State.
Against the Bruins, Thomas looked more like the back that rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year for the No. 11 Utes.
And Utah will need more of the same from him the rest of the season.
“Tavion played his best game of the year. We were leaning on him quite heavily for a while until we got to the point where we needed to start throwing more,” said coach Kyle Whittingham.
“But I’m proud of how he played. He caught the ball well out of the backfield. … He’s hopefully going to stay in a positive direction and be a force for us. It was about this time last year where he really started to get some traction and started to become a major player for us.”
Whittingham said he was also pleased with quarterback Cam Rising’s play, though Rising had one fumble and one interception to go along with his 287 passing yards and 59 rushing yards.
Rising was also sacked twice.
“We were OK. I don’t think we were at our best,” Whittingham said of the pass protection against UCLA. “We weren’t as good as we were last week pass-blocking. We gave up a couple of sacks today.
“Cam is such an athletic guy, and has such a great pocket presence and can feel the rush and has a great gift for escapability. He makes the protection statistically look better than it is sometimes because of his ability to maneuver out of the pocket.”
Rising said the offense needs to improve.
“We came up short, that’s all I know,” he said. “It just wasn’t enough. There’s a lot of stuff that I have to clean up to make sure we’re rolling from the (start). Just to be better.”
Tight end Thomas Yassmin took a hard hit in the first half that resulted in a targeting call on the Bruins and didn’t return to the game.
Whittingham said he wasn’t sure about the extent of Yassmin’s injury.