Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Wham. Bam. Slam. Thud.
Utah's introduction into the Pac-12 continued its rocky road Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Three interceptions and two lost fumbles contributed to a 35-14 loss to 22nd-ranked Arizona State, dropping the Utes to 0-3 in their new conference and all but dashing any hope they had of reaching the Pac-12's inaugural championship game.
"We'll start winning games when we stop turning the ball over. That's the bottom line," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "Until that happens, it's going to be a long road. That's our biggest issue right now."
The latest setback, he noted, was unfortunately very similar to last week's 31-14 loss to Washington. The Utes lost three fumbles and threw two interceptions in that game.
"We've got to quit turning the football over," Whittingham said. "And we've got to start finding ways to win."
A team meeting preceded the postgame press conference.
Whittingham said the general theme of it was that the Utes have got to stick together, do things smarter and hang tough.
"Because it doesn't get any easier," he explained. "We've got a lot of football left."
The Utes take a 2-3 mark into a two-game stretch featuring road games at Pittsburgh and California.
"We're going to look at it as a new season — get bowl eligible," Utah quarterback Jon Hays said after making his first career start in place of the injured Jordan Wynn. "We can win the rest of our games."
The Utes, he continued, are looking to wipe the slate clean.
It'll take a lot of scrubbing, however, to put the end of this one behind them.
The pivotal second half started off well for the Utes. They opened the third quarter with a nine-play, 79-yard scoring drive that culminated with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Hays to tight end Dallin Rogers. Coleman Petersen added the PAT to give Utah a 14-10 advantage.
"We did have momentum there for a while," Whittingham said.
It proved to be short-lived, however.
Arizona State began a game-ending run of 25 unanswered points with a 35-yard field goal by Alex Garoutte on the ensuing possession.
Then came a barrage of Utah turnovers. Two fumbles served as bookends for an interception on the Utes' next three drives. Arizona State capitalized on the miscues with touchdowns each time to put the game out of reach.
"You look every year at the stats and the best teams are ahead in the turnover margin," said Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson. "That's what happened today. They had five and we didn't have any. Usually you win football games like that."
Leading 14-13, the Utes turned the ball over on their first play after the Sun Devils closed the gap. Defensive end Greg Smith recovered a fumble by running back John White on the Utah 44.
It took Arizona State only five plays to take the lead, scoring on a 14-yard touchdown toss from Brock Osweiler to Mike Willie. The Sun Devils added a two-point conversion to make it 21-14.
The Utes' next offensive series also consisted of just one play when Hays was intercepted by safety Clint Floyd on the Utah 32. Running back Cameron Marshall capped a three-play sequence with a 4-yard touchdown run to increase the Sun Devils' lead to 14 points before the third quarter was complete.
More of the same followed early in the fourth.
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