Tom Smart, Deseret News
SAN DIEGO — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham received an early birthday present from his team. A day before turning 51-years-old, Whittingham and the Utes ended a two-game slide with a 38-34 triumph over San Diego State.
The victory assured the program of its fourth consecutive season with nine or more wins.
"It means a lot to our players," Whittingham said. "It means a lot to me that they're able to do that."
With a 41-9 mark in the stretch, this year's senior class is the most successful in U. history. They can add to it with wins over BYU on Saturday and a bowl game next month.
"I'm so proud of that senior crew and what they've done and how much they've accomplished in their time at Utah," Whittingham said outside a happy locker room at Qualcomm Stadium.
There were plenty of reasons to celebrate. The Utes got back on track after subpar performances against TCU (47-7) and Notre Dame (28-3).
"The bottom line is the win," Whittingham said. "I'm very proud of our guys for hanging in there and never backing down."
Utah (9-2, 6-1), which moved up to No. 22 in this week's USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 23 in the Associated Press rankings, rallied from 17 points down to prevail.
"We needed to get this one and get a little momentum heading into next week and that's what we were able to do," Whittingham said while crediting the senior leadership for how the team responded to adversity.
The Utes, he noted, were "opportunistic" when they needed to be.
Contributions were plentiful, including those of several underclassmen.
The headliner was sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn, who threw for a career-high 362 yards against the Aztecs. The performance followed two weeks of struggles for the starter and Utah's offense.
"We came out and played well tonight," Wynn said while making note of the recent futility that produced one touchdown and one field goal over two games prior to the San Diego trip. "It felt good to be able to move the ball and score points tonight."
Confidence was restored on several fronts.
"Jordan was very good tonight and he's a tough kid," Whittingham said. "Nobody felt worse than he did over the last couple of weeks. But it was great to see him respond like he did tonight."
The momentum-changer offensively was a "Hail Mary" touchdown at the end of the first half. Wynn and tight end Kendrick Moeai capped things off with an improbable 47-yard scoring strike on the final play.
The completion helped Utah close a once large gap to a more manageable 27-24 margin and provided a much-needed boost.
"It was huge for our confidence and esteem," Wynn said. "We kind of rolled after that."
The Utes wound up with 500 yards of total offense.
San Diego State had 87 more, but was eventually stymied by Utah's defense. After scoring touchdowns on four of their first five drives, the Aztecs reached the end zone on only one of six to end the game.
Brandon Burton, Chaz Walker and Brian Blechen intercepted passes to end three of the series.
A blocked punt by Greg Bird and a recovery by Christian Cox set up what proved to be the game-winning Utah touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"I know we've got our swagger back," Burton said. "We're just going to try to take it into next week."
EXTRA POINTS: As usual during BYU week, all of Utah's practices will be closed to the media . . . Brandon Burton led the Utes with seven tackles against SDSU . . . Matt Asiata finished with a game-high 87 yards rushing . .. . Dallin Rogers topped 11 Utah receivers with four catches . . . SDSU was held to 59 yards rushing, becoming the sixth team Utah has held under 100 this season.
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