Utah football: Utes hold on for dramatic upset of 5th-ranked Stanford
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Like the rest of the Utah Utes, quarterback Travis Wilson was all smiles as he worked his way through the postgame celebration on the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The sophomore was mobbed by well-wishers after the Utes’ 27-21 upset of fifth-ranked Stanford.
“It feels great. Just having all these fans here is awesome,” Wilson said as he approached the locker room. “It was a great win that we really needed.”
Wilson directed an offense that racked up 415 yards and 22 first downs. He completed 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns as Utah defeated a top 10 opponent at home for the first time since a win over No. 8 Arizona State in 1973.
“This feels great,” said wide receiver Dres Anderson. “It feels like we won the national title.”
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called it a nice win for the program.
“So many guys made plays tonight,” he said. “There were a lot of positives from this game.”
Leading 21-14 at halftime, Utah added a pair of field goals by Andy Phillips to its advantage in a span of less than three minutes over the third and fourth quarters. The kicks from 23 and 48 yards wound up providing a much-needed cushion for the Utes to prevail.
They forced Stanford to go for a touchdown in the final minute and the defense held firm, leaving the Cardinal 6 yards short of reaching the end zone. A final pass by quarterback Kevin Hogan was overthrown as the nation’s second-longest active win streak came to an end at 13 games.
“First of all, I want to say that we knew we were coming into a hornets’ nest here,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. “UCLA came in here a week ago and barely squeaked out. We knew it would be a battle and we didn’t play well enough.”
The scores by Phillips came in the midst of a wild sequence of takeaways in the third quarter. It began with Stanford linebacker Joe Hemschoot picking off a pass from Wilson that bounced off Utah’s Anderson. Less than three minutes later, the Utes reclaimed possession when defensive end Trevor Reilly took the ball away from Cardinal receiver Ty Montgomery near midfield, setting up the first kick by Phillips.
In the final minute of the quarter, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard jarred the ball away from Hogan on a sack. Reilly recovered the fumble on the Cardinal 33. The turnover wound up leading to the second kick by Phillips, which sailed between the uprights with 14:13 remaining.
Stanford cut into the 27-14 deficit just less than five minutes later when Hogan teamed with receiver Devon Cajuste on a 7-yard touchdown pass. Cajuste made the grab on the left side of the end zone, getting one foot in bounds while being hit by Utah cornerback Justin Thomas.
The Cardinal then forced Utah to punt before embarking on the final drive that came up short (ending on a loss of downs) with only 47 seconds remaining.
“Utah did a good job. They are a good team and have always been good, and this is the best I have seen them play all year,” Shaw said. “Everyone in our conference knows this is one of the toughest places to play. Utah is really big up front and creates issues for us on the defensive side. We made adjustments that slowed them in the second half, but they did a good job.”
Both teams scored touchdowns on their opening drives.
Stanford went first, covering 75 yards on seven plays. The Cardinal got things started with a 34-yard pass play from Hogan to Montgomery. Stanford later converted on a short third-down situation when Hogan connected on a 28-yard throw to Kodi Whitfield. After moving into scoring position, Tyler Gaffney eventually hopped over the line for a 1-yard touchdown run.
Utah matched the score with a 75-yard march of its own, complete with a big pass to kick off the drive. A 35-yard throw from Wilson to Bubba Poole ignited a possession that included a fourth-down conversion and ended with a 4-yard scoring strike from Wilson to Karl Williams.
The Utes, though, didn’t stay in a 7-7 standstill with the Cardinal for long.
Montgomery returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to put Stanford back on top with 7:21 to go in the first quarter.
Trailing 14-7, Utah punted and later benefitted from a missed field goal by Stanford’s Jordan Williamson before evening the score once again. A 51-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Anderson knotted things up with 10 seconds left to play in the opening quarter.
The deadlock remained until the Utes put together a sustained drive late in the half. A 3-yard touchdown run by Anderson concluded an 11-play, 99-yard series that took 5:05 off the clock.
Utah led 21-14 at the break. The Utes held significant statistical advantages in total yardage (280-209) and first downs (14-6).
“Our game plan was perfect tonight,” Wilson said. “We wanted to spread the ball around to loosen up the middle for the running game and we were able to do that.”
The Utes (4-2, 1-2) continue Pac-12 play next Saturday at Arizona. They visit USC the following week.
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