SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lit up its annual blackout game Saturday with a 27-8 win over Oregon State at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The Utes made history in the process, brightening up a dark and dreary start to their inaugural Pac-12 campaign. They're now 4-4 overall and 1-4 in league play entering next week's game at Arizona.
"It's nice to get the first Pac-12 win," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "It took us more tries than I would have liked but we ended up getting it."
And in impressive fashion, too.
While Utah's defense recorded six sacks, forced four turnovers and limited the Beavers to just 32 yards on the ground, the offense was effective with running back John White rushing for 205 yards and quarterback Jon Hays throwing two touchdown passes.
"Everybody was focused," said cornerback Conroy Black. "The offense came out and had our backs and it ended up with a good result."
Utah's offense came out firing, attempting a long pass from Hays to DeVonte Christopher on the Utes' first play from scrimmage. The throw down the left sideline was incomplete, but provided an initial attempt to prevent Oregon State from loading up the box on defense. To Whittingham's surprise, though, the Beavers never really did so — opting to stay in base coverage as they have all season long.
The Utes, meanwhile, marched downfield with a nine-yard completion from Hays to Kenneth Scott and three consecutive runs to move into into scoring position on the first drive. An 18-yard keeper by Hays was bookended with gains of five and nine yards by White.
Utah eventually capped things off with a 48-yard field goal by Coleman Petersen with 8:14 to go in the first quarter to take a 3-0 lead.
Oregon State had a chance to strike first, but kicker Trevor Romaine was wide right on a 50-yard try on the game's opening drive.
The Utes had 71 yards rushing by the end of the quarter, 58 more than they had in the 34-10 loss at California a week earlier.
Utah's next points came via the air. With 7:04 remaining in the half, Hays completed the longest touchdown pass of his career with the Utes — a 35-yard strike to Dres Anderson.
Leading 10-0 after Petersen added the PAT, Utah's defense set up the next score when cornerback Mo Lee returned an interception 30 yards to the Oregon State 16-yard line. Two runs by White culminated with another touchdown for Utah. The 6-yard scamper gave the Utes their highest point production in five Pac-12 outings, having never exceeded 14 before.
The tally rose to 24 before the half was complete. White, who had 161 yards at the break, inflicted most of the damage on a late drive. His 60-yard run helped set up a 3-yard touchdown toss from Hays to Christopher with 24 seconds left to play in the second quarter.
"I thought they had the edge on our team in the first half in every phase of the game — offense, defense, special teams," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said of Utah's 24-0 halftime advantage.
Although the Utes only added a late 20-yard field goal by Petersen the rest of the way, the defense stepped up with three takeaways after the intermission. It overshadowed the fact that the offense managed just 52 yards and three first downs over the final 30 minutes.
"The thing we didn't do was turn the ball over excessively, which was key," Whittingham said before noting the three interceptions and fumble recovery made by the defense. "When we win the turnover margin, we're a pretty good football team. We can compete with who we need to compete with."
The second-half takeways began with an interception by Ryan Lacy in the third quarter. Things got even more pivotal in the fourth period after Oregon State put its first points — on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Sean Mannion to Markus Wheaton — with 14:55 to go.
After having their lead cut to 24-6, the Utes suffered additional adversity two plays later when White fumbled and the Beavers recovered it on the Utah 12.
A reversal of fortune soon followed, however.
On Oregon State's third play in the ensuing possession, linebacker Chaz Walker jarred the ball away from running back Malcolm Agnew and Trevor Reilly secured the fumble on the 1-yard line to thwart the threat — sort of.
Just one minute later, a Utah holding penalty in the end zone resulted in a team safety and two points for the Beavers.
An exchange of punts followed before linebacker Matt Martinez intercepted Mannion with less than five minutes to play. Utah then took 3:08 off the clock before concluding all scoring with Petersen's second field goal of the game.
The victory ended Utah's two-game skid at home and kept the Utes from dropping to 0-5 in conference play for the first time since 1986.
"It was really important (to win). We hadn't been playing the way we wanted to," said safety Brian Blechen. "That's on us and it's up to us to turn it around. This was the game to do it. We owe it to ourselves, coaches and fans."
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