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Young Utah team ‘sick of losing’ not perfect, but holds on to beat Oregon State for first victory of 2020 season

The Beavers didn’t go down without a fight in the fourth quarter as the mistake-prone Utes nearly squandered a 30-10 lead early in the final period. 

Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey celebrates a kick return for touchdown.
Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey (18) celebrates a kick return for touchdown with teammates as Utah and Oregon State play a college football game at Rice Eccles stadium in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. Utah won 30-24.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

For Utah, the long drought is over.

It didn’t always look pretty, it wasn’t always easy, and they darn near gave it away in the end, but the Utes finally earned their first win in more than a year — and their first of this truncated season Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Who said anything would come easy in 2020?

After surrendering nine turnovers in its first two games, Utah (1-2) had zero turnovers, scored in the second half for the first time during this campaign, dominated defensively much of the night, received a huge lift from its playmakers and held off Oregon State 30-24.

It marked the first time the Utes have tasted victory since a 45-15 clobbering of Colorado on Nov. 30, 2019.

“It felt great. A ‘W’ is a ‘W,’” wide receiver Britain Covey said. “This is a young team. There are a lot of things to learn. This season, you’ve got to find the positives in it. We’re so happy to get a win. We’re sick of losing.”

The Beavers (2-3) didn’t go down without a fight in the fourth quarter as the mistake-prone Utes nearly squandered a 30-10 lead early in the final period.

“It’s disappointing that we let the game get away from us,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “We were in complete control and we lost control.”

As Utah tried to milk the clock, it gained just 21 yards in the fourth quarter. The Utes’ three three-and-outs in a row during a stretch was “unacceptable,” Whittingham said. He acknowledged that the play-calling was “too vanilla” in the fourth quarter.

Yes, Oregon State made things interesting with a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chance Nolan to Kolby Taylor with 5:07 remaining to pull within six points.

“We essentially handed them that touchdown,” Whittingham said, noting several defensive penalties on that drive. As a team, Utah committed 11 penalties for 96 yards.

Then OSU’s defense stuffed Utah freshman running back Ty Jordan on fourth-and-1 from the Beaver 43-yard line to get the ball back. The Utes came up with their own fourth-down stop with 1:40 left, but Utah’s offense ended up punting, too.

Oregon State drove to the Utah 36 before being shut down once and for all on fourth-and-8 with 21 seconds left in the game.

“We’ve got to get the job done some way,” said linebacker Devin Lloyd.

Ultimately, the defense was able to finally slam the door on OSU.

“We’ve got to be more disciplined,” said cornerback JaTravis Broughton. “But when the time came, we were able to finish it.”

Covey, who has been hampered by injuries the past two seasons, enjoyed his 2020 coming-out party, producing an electrifying 64-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter that propelled the Utes to a 30-10 advantage. That proved to be a crucial TD, as it turned out.

“Covey’s punt return was huge,” Whittingham said. “That might have been the difference in the game.”

Earlier, Covey scored Utah’s first points in the second half this season on the first drive of the third quarter when he caught an 8-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Jake Bentley. It marked Covey’s first touchdown in two years.

For the first time this season, the Utes took advantage of their stable of playmakers, and one thing was clear — a healthy Covey can make a big difference for Utah’s offense and its special teams.

Covey had four receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown and ran twice for seven yards.

Jordan rushed for a career-high 167 yards and a TD on 27 carries and he caught two passes for 22 yards.

“I just want to give credit to the O-line,” Jordan said, praising the offensive line for its efforts. “That resulted in a great game.”

Whittingham said Jordan is “starting to separate himself even more” from the rest of the running backs.

Tight end Brant Kuithe had eight catches for 76 yards. Bentley completed 18 of 27 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown and no interceptions.

Meanwhile, the much-anticipated matchup between Oregon State running back Jermar Jefferson, one of the nation’s top rushers, and Utah’s defense, ranked No. 7 nationally and No. 1 in the Pac-12, against the run, never materialized.

Jefferson didn’t make the trip to Rice-Eccles Stadium due to COVID-19 protocols.

OSU was also without its starting quarterback, Tristan Gebbia, who was sidelined with an injury. Nolan, a sophomore, made his first career start for Oregon State.

The shorthanded Beavers couldn’t compensate for the losses of Jefferson and Gebbia — until the fourth quarter.

Entering the game, Utah was allowing 90.5 rushing yards per game this season. Even without Jefferson, Oregon State ran for 133 yards — the first time Utah has surrendered more than 100 yards rushing this season. The Beavers finished with 335 yards of total offense.

In the first half, Utah’s offense suffered red zone issues, missing plenty of opportunities to score touchdowns and open up a big lead on Oregon State.

On the Utes’ first three drives, they found themselves third-and-8 at the OSU 15; third-and-goal at the 2 and third-and-5 at the 9.

Bentley’s three errant passes, including two to Kuithe, short-circuited those drives and Utah had to settle for field goals to take a 9-0 lead early in the second quarter.

“That was extremely frustrating,” Whittingham said of the Utes’ futility in the red zone.

Utah finally get into the end zone on a one-yard run by Jordan on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Bentley’s bobbled snap momentarily made it look like a high-wire act, but Utah seized a 16-3 lead with 3:10 left in the first half.

Oregon State found some life on its final drive of the half. That possession was aided by a couple of Utah penalties, including a targeting call on defensive back Malone Mataele. That drive was capped by a 1-yard run by Calvin Tyler.

OSU added its second TD with 11:50 left in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 30-17.

On their ensuing kickoff, the Beavers recovered an onside kick but their offensive drive ended quietly with a punt.

Utah visits undefeated Colorado next Friday in the regular-season finale.