Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s 27-21 win over fifth-ranked Stanford on Saturday was followed by a jubilant postgame celebration on the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Fans rushed onto the turf to congratulate the players and coaches after the Utes’ first home win over a top 5 team in the history of the program.
“It’s definitely a great win. I think our whole team played great as a whole,” said Utah quarterback Travis Wilson. “We’re super excited and this is a great accomplishment for us. We’ve just got to keep building on this.”
The Utes (4-2, 1-2) received major contributions on offense, defense and special teams in bringing the nation’s second-longest active winning streak to an end at 13 games. Stanford (5-1, 3-1) had a chance to pull even or take the lead in the final minute, but wound up 6 yards shy of doing so — surrendering the ball on a loss of downs with only 47 seconds remaining.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the difference was making two or three plays in crucial situations — something the Utes weren’t able to do in a 51-48 overtime loss to Oregon State or in a 34-27 setback to 12th-ranked UCLA.
“It all boils down to players and our players executed and did a great job,” said Whittingham, who considered it a team effort.
The game, he noted, pitted two physical football teams.
“We felt like that was a matchup that may work in our favor,” Whittingham said. “So many guys made plays tonight. So many guys to be proud of.”
Wilson and the offense generated 415 yards and 22 first downs. The sophomore completed 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Bubba Poole proved to be an effective weapon with a game-high 111 yards rushing and seven receptions. The offensive line also drew praise from Whittingham.
Kicker Andy Phillips maintained his season-long run of perfection by making two field goals and three PATs. His second-half kicks from 23 and 48 yards out proved to be the margin of the victory.
As for the defense, linebacker Trevor Reilly led the way with seven tackles and two fumble recoveries. Defensive end Nate Orchard also had a big game with two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Utah’s defense limited Stanford to only 13 first downs and forced two incompletions when the Cardinal had moved to the 6-yard line down the stretch.
Reilly noted that toughness has proved to be the team’s thing this year.
”I think that was personified there on the last stand,” he said.
The victory followed what Whittingham called an outstanding week of preparation.
“We did not have a bad practice, not even close to a bad practice,” he said in crediting the players for their hard work. “They put in the film time and that’s the reason why we won the game.”
Orchard agreed that the “preparation was great all week.”
There were other variables as well. On Thursday, Whittingham met with the senior class and made sure everyone was where they needed to be mentally. He said it was obvious they were — noting that the senior class refused to let the team get fragmented after the disappointing losses to Oregon State and UCLA.
“They’re a tough group of individuals. They hung together. There was no way that they were going to back off,” Whittingham said. “They knew they were close. We knew they were close and they just persevered.”
Whittingham was also confident that Wilson would bounce back from a six-interception performance against UCLA.
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