Strong safety Cole Bishop has been in Utah’s program for less than two years but in that short amount of time, he’s made a big impact. 

His defensive prowess was on full display during Saturday’s 34-13 win at Arizona State. He recorded a sack, an interception and a pass breakup. 

“He’s a complete football player. He can do it all. He’s in his second year so he’s a true sophomore. What he’s doing as a true sophomore is really amazing.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on Cole Bishop

It marked Bishop’s first career interception and his first sack of the season. 

“Cole is a special player. He had a sack and a pick,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s a complete football player. He can do it all. He’s in his second year so he’s a true sophomore. What he’s doing as a true sophomore is really amazing.”

Not only that, Whittingham said Bishop is among the top players at his position in college football.

“He’s an absolute phenom at safety. He’s got everything you look for. He’s so athletic in coverage, a great blitzer and tackler,” he said. “He’s the whole package. He’s got size … You’re seeing one of the best safeties in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the country.”

The No. 12 Utes host Oregon State Saturday (noon MDT, Pac-12 Network). 

Before the season began, Bishop said one of his goals this season was to earn some takeaways. 

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“I need some interceptions. I didn’t get any last year,” he said during the offseason. “I need to get a few of those.”

Now, he’s got his first.

Along with his play on the field, Bishop has emerged as one of the leaders of the defense, and he’s helped the Utes turn things around after a rough outing on that side of the ball in a season-opening loss at Florida

“Everyone was mad about the loss against Florida,” Bishop said. “We’re feeling good.”

Bishop fits in perfectly with Utah’s program. 

The 6-foot-2, 206-pound native of Peachtree City, Georgia, originally committed to Duke in March 2020. But by October, Bishop changed his mind and decided to sign with the Utes. 

Utah safety Cole Bishop looks on during game against Arizona State, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Tempe, Ariz. The sophomore safety has come into his own for the Utes this season. | Rick Scuteri, Associated Press

When Bishop started talking to Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley, everything changed. 

“I didn’t know much about Utah football beforehand,” Bishop said. “After I started talking to (Scalley), I did some research and I liked it.”

Because of the pandemic, Bishop wasn’t able to take a recruiting visit to the Utah campus. He signed with the Utes anyway.

“It was kind of spontaneous and risky coming out (to Utah),” he said. “But it’s the best decision I ever made.”

In January 2021, he enrolled early at Utah, a move that’s paid big dividends. By the ninth game of the season last year, at Stanford, Bishop became the starter.

“He’s an outstanding player,” Whittingham said in the days after that game. “He’s just a true freshman and he’s going to be special.”

Last year, Bishop was a Pac-12 all-conference honorable mention selection. He had 54 tackles, including nine for loss, three sacks and five pass breakups.

Bishop blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt against Oregon. Against Arizona, Bishop tallied a career-high three tackles for loss, the most by a Utah true freshman since 2007.

Scalley said Bishop has put in the work on his way to becoming an elite safety. 

“Cole’s a stud. Cole’s one that makes you a better coach, right?” Scalley said. “He’s another guy that’s a student of the game. You see him studying film all the time.”

Scalley has been impressed with how quickly Bishop has developed. 

“You never know how freshmen are going to come into your program and handle everything that’s new, from college classes to college curriculum and getting used to our way of doing things. He was ready to go,” he said. “The one thing that limited him early on in the season was his hamstring. Otherwise, I think he would have played sooner than he did.

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“Now, he’s everything you want. … You go into the safeties’ room right now and he’s watching film. He eats, sleeps and breathes football. He’s a great kid and he’s a great leader. His best days are ahead of him.”

Senior free safety R.J. Hubert and Bishop complement each other well in Utah’s defensive secondary.

“I love Cole. Cole’s awesome. He first got here in the spring of 2021. I knew from then on that he was going to be a great contributor, somebody who’s solid. He’s a great athlete,” Hubert said. “He’s really somebody that’s taken on the role and embraced it. He’s already teaching younger guys.

“He’s young himself. But he’s already teaching some of the newer guys the plays and how to line up and the whole thought process of everything. I love being out there with Cole. He’s a lot of fun to play with. I don’t have to worry about whether he knows the plays or not.”

Hubert acknowledged that Bishop has become a fan favorite. 

“The fan base already loves him. They eat it up. They love Cole,” he said. “I have no doubt that Cole is going to get better as he spends more time in this program.”

Early in the third quarter at Arizona State, the Utes held their collective breath as Bishop sacked Sun Devil quarterback Emory Jones for an 11-yard loss but was whistled for targeting.

“It was kind of spontaneous and risky coming out (to Utah). But it’s the best decision I ever made.” — Utah safety Cole Bishop

After a review, however, the officials waved off the targeting penalty. 

Had the targeting call been confirmed, Bishop would have been ejected from the remainder of Saturday’s game and would have missed the first half of this week’s against Oregon State.

Whittingham did not agree with the original call against Bishop for targeting.

“He turned his head … It was good to see the refs interpret it that way. To me, that’s not the spirit of the rule,” he said. “Yeah, the helmets touched … a lot of times, the defender can’t help it when the quarterback ducks at the last second. You have to look at the intent. There was no intent for Cole to use his helmet as a weapon.”

Bishop didn’t think he should have been whistled for targeting. 

“I was more concerned about next week. We were already up by a good bit,” Bishop said. “Obviously, I wanted to finish this game but I was worried about being suspended for the first half of the Oregon State game. But luckily, they didn’t call me for it.”

As well as Bishop played against Arizona State, he credited the coaches and his teammates. 

“Coach Scalley helped us get a good game plan,” Bishop said. “We played physical and fast and we got the job done.”

Certainly, Bishop is getting the job done as one of the nation’s top safeties.

Utes on the air

Oregon State (3-1, 0-1) at No. 12 Utah (3-1, 1-0) 

Saturday, noon MDT

Rice-Eccles Stadium 

Salt Lake City

TV: Pac-12 Network 

Radio: ESPN 700