While last year’s 33-31 loss to San Diego State in triple overtime was a painful experience for Utah, it also served as a key turning point in the Utes’ season, which culminated with a first-ever Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl appearance.
Quarterback Cam Rising emerged in that game, coming off the bench to replace starter Charlie Brewer. He rallied Utah from a two-touchdown deficit. The Utes scored 14 points in about six minutes at the end of regulation, sending the game to overtime.
Rising ended up leading Utah to an unforgettable campaign and earned All-Pac-12 first-team honors.
As the Utes get set to host SDSU Saturday (8 p.m. MDT, ESPN2), Rising was asked this week what he remembers about last year’s game against the Aztecs.
“That we lost,” he said.
What does coach Kyle Whittingham remember about that night?
“Besides that it was a miserable experience?” he said. “It was very miserable. Obviously, what stands out is when Cam entered the game and provided that spark.”
Against SDSU, Utah’s offense sputtered most of the game.
“It just seemed like we were way out of sync in that game. It was not a good experience. We just didn’t play well,” Whittingham added. “After the outcome, moving forward, it turned out to be a change in our season because of the quarterback change and we went with Cam the rest of the way. It ended up being a pretty good year.”
The rise of Cam Rising began against the Aztecs. But his coaches and teammates weren’t necessarily surprised by his performance that night.
After a spirited battle with Brewer during fall camp, Rising, who was named a team captain, didn’t complain when he was relegated as the backup at the start of the 2021 season.
“Leading up to that (game against SDSU), his attitude was terrific. He prepared as if he were the starter from the outset even though he knew he wasn’t. We made the announcement and he continued to work hard and watch film,” Whittingham recalled. “He told me, ‘Hey, when my number’s called, I’ll be ready, I promise you that.’
“His number was called and he responded. The rest is history, I guess you could say. From that point forward, we never looked back. Charlie left the program and so there was no ongoing competition. The job was his.”
Offensive lineman Braeden Daniels said Rising remained upbeat despite the disappointment of not being named the starter.
“Even when Charlie Brewer got the starting job, he still had that positive mindset,” he said. “He was still helping and trying to make his team better.”
What does running back Micah Bernard remember about Rising’s performance against SDSU?
“That game, I just remember his coming in and saying, ‘Hey guys, let’s go. It’s money down.’ I was like, ‘OK. Let’s go. We got this.’ I’ve talked with Cam about that. I was like, ‘Cam, bro, you’ve got to start saying it’s the money down. That gets me hyped,’” he said. “Seeing that game and what we could have done and then seeing the rest of the season, you know it was very special. That’s what we’re going to continue to do this year.”
Recalled Daniels: “We started having fun out there. Having that energy, it was a change. That change sparked an opportunity for our offense. It helped propel us even more. He came in and did his thing and he did a great job. Having that guy behind you that you want to play for and just him helping us to create those explosive plays and be able to stay on the field and convert those third-and-longs is a great feeling.”
Bernard said Rising’s fun-loving, easygoing personality helps the players feel comfortable.
“Cam’s a funny guy. He loves to joke around, he loves to laugh, he loves to smile,” he said. “That’s very contagious with everybody on offense. When you see him joking around and happy, it’s a good time.”
Rising is frequently cracking jokes and laughing, like he was doing before interviews Monday.
“That’s how he is all the time. He’ll say, ‘What if I just ‘Griddy’ across the camera right now?’ I was just laughing. He’s a jokester. You need that, especially at the quarterback position,” Bernard said. “A lot of times quarterbacks are serious. And Cam can be serious. Very serious. But Cam can also lighten up the mood a little bit when everything is so tense. It’s great to have a guy like that.”
“It’s his leadership and personality and he’s a guy that you want to play for,” Daniels said. “He’s a guy you want to protect. He can help us propel to the next level and get better each and every week. He creates that drive. That Michael Jordan urge to push other people to get better.”
In the season-opening 29-26 loss at Florida, Rising threw an interception in the end zone in the waning moments.
But Rising rebounded the next week in a 73-7 pummeling of Southern Utah last Saturday.
“He can move on easily. You need that guy. You can’t have a guy that sits around and sulks,” Bernard said. “You need a guy to move on and get to the next play. That’s what Cam does. He does it in an amazing way that everybody needs.”
With the media Monday, Rising was serious and matter-of-fact. He seems to be focused on beating SDSU on Saturday.
How has Rising changed over the past year as Utah’s starting quarterback?
“Just more knowledge of the offense and having gone through it for a whole year,” Rising said. “That experience, that’s the difference now.”
Losing to San Diego State is a painful memory for the Utes. But that was the night they found their starting quarterback.
Utes on the air
San Diego State (1-1) at No. 14 Utah (1-1)
Saturday, 8 p.m. MDT
Radio: ESPN 700