Utah Utes football: Variety of contributions led Utes to victory over Cal
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — There was joy in Uteville Saturday night.
Utah’s 49-27 win over California hit the spot — lots of spots, actually. Contributions were plentiful as the Utes snapped a four-game skid in impressive fashion.
“That’s what we needed. We had a complete team effort,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “The first complete team effort of the season.”
Offense, defense and special teams all put points on the board. Reggie Dunn highlighted the effort with two 100-yard kickoff returns, becoming just the 16th player in NCAA history to do so in one game. Another improbable touchdown came on defense, courtesy of a fumble recovery by Reggie Topps.
“Finding alternative ways to score, I think that’s what you need to do,” Whittingham said. “You can’t always lean on your offense.”
Utah’s offense, though, was also effective against the Bears. The Utes scored on four drives over the second and third quarters.
Whittingham called it all “good stuff.”
At 3-5 overall and 1-4 in Pac-12 play, the Utes still have a lot of work to do in order to extend their streak of winning seasons and bowl appearances to 10. They host Washington State on Saturday.
“Hopefully this will get us back on track,” Dunn said. “We’re just going to take it one play and one game at a time.”
It’s the approach Utah took into the Cal game. Dunn noted it was talked about during the week.
“This was the only game that we were focusing on,” Dunn said.
The focus paid off as the Utes avoided their first 2-6 start to a season since 2002. Whittingham stopped short of calling it a relief, opting instead to consider it a reward for the players and their hard work.
“These guys have really been doing everything right,” Whittingham said. “It just hasn’t translated on Saturdays and tonight it translated.”
Besides Dunn and the special teams success, Utah’s offense put together a solid outing in Travis Wilson’s home debut as the starting quarterback. The true freshman completed 16-of-24 passes for 156 yards. He also had a 5-yard touchdown run.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Wilson said. “I’m really excited. I’m really happy right now. I’m glad to get my first win in the Pac-12.”
The Utes racked up 22 first downs and 344 yards of total offense. They improved to 10-0 over the past two seasons when running back John White has topped 100 yards rushing. The senior finished with 105 and two touchdowns Saturday. Backup Kelvin York added 51 yards and a score before being sidelined with an ankle injury.
Kenneth Scott topped the receiving corps with five catches. Tight end Jake Murphy was second with four.
The defense also played well. Safety Brian Blechen led the Utes with seven tackles and was one of five defenders to make stops behind the line of scrimmage. Joe Kruger, Tenny Palepoi, Dave Kruger and Topps were the others, each registering sacks.
“Our main focus this week was getting to the quarterback,” said Joe Kruger.
Utah broke up five passes and forced three fumbles. Star Lotulelei and Topps had recoveries, while Ryan Lacy picked off a pass as the Utes came away with three takeaways. — winning that battle 3-1. Utah’s lone turnover was an interception by Wilson.
Third-down conversions were also pivotal. The Utes were 8-of-13 in that category.
“That’s winning football,” Whittingham said.
Utah’s defense also did well on third downs. The Utes limited the Bears to 1-of-7 success while building a 42-6 lead late in the third quarter.
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