SAN JOSE, Calif. — Saturday night's 24-14 victory over San Jose State proved to be a hard-fought Sweet 16 for the 17th-ranked Utah Utes.
They extended the nation's longest active winning streak with a subpar performance — needing a fourth-quarter burst to pull away from a Spartans team that had dropped a 56-3 decision to USC just one week earlier.
"Give credit to San Jose State," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "They played hard. They had a great game plan going in."
The Utes, he noted, have a lot to work on this week.
"It'll keep us busy in practice, no doubt," Whittingham continued. "We hung in there, though, and the bottom line is we came out with a win. Although we didn't play as efficiently as we should have, we continued to hang in and found a way to win."
San Jose State coach Dick Tomey agreed.
"There is a reason that Utah has the longest winning streak in college football," he said. "It's because they can win games like this one."
Utah (2-0) didn't take the lead for good until Terrance Cain and Jereme Brooks teamed for a 51-yard scoring strike with 13:44 to go.
Less than five minutes later, the Utes added another touchdown and some much-needed breathing room. Back-to-back 15-yard rushes by Eddie Wide resulted in what proved to be a pivotal score. Wide replaced starter Matt Asiata, who was sidelined with a shoulder injury — the extent of which was not immediately known.
The runs closed a drive that included a pair of critical third-down conversions by Utah. A 12-yard pass from Cain to David Reed moved the chains near midfield and an 11-yard connection to John Peel also led to a fresh set of downs.
It all proved necessary as San Jose State managed to cut into Utah's 21-7 lead on the ensuing possession. A 1-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Le Secla to Marquis Avery closed the gap with 5:05 left to play.
The Utes, though, answered decisively. They converted on a third-and-2 situation while successfully running the clock down. A 46-yard run by Sausan Shakerin iced the outcome down the stretch — putting Utah deep in San Jose State territory. Joe Phillips eventually nailed a 25-yard field goal to seal the deal with just 13 seconds remaining.
"We didn't play our best," Brooks said. "But a win is a win."
Cain, who completed 18-of-31 passes for 248 yards and rushed for 69 yards, acknowledged it was a tougher game than expected.
"It was but we had a lot of mistakes," he said. "We could have played a lot better than we showed."
Although the Utes held commanding advantages in total offense (259-162) and time of possession (18:04-11:56), turnovers and missed opportunities led to a 7-7 deadlock in the opening half.
The score remained unchanged through three quarters.
Things, however, started off well for Utah.
Cain made his second career start for the Utes and orchestrated a touchdown drive on the opening series. After getting sacked for a 7-yard loss on the first play from scrimmage, the junior moved the Utes downfield with positive yardage on 10 consecutive plays.
Cain, who completed two passes to Reed along the way, highlighted the effort with a pair successful rushes on third down. The first was a 30-yard run on third-and-12 from the Utah 21, while the latter was a 7-yard gain on third-and-3 that put the Utes on the San Jose State 35.
A 26-yard pass from Cain to Reed followed and put them in scoring position. Four plays later, Matt Asiata concluded the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Ben Vroman added the PAT on a drive that took 6:30 off the clock.
Utah's quick start, however, was followed by offensive miscues as the first quarter progressed.
The Utes' next two possessions ended with fumbles, including a wild sequence where Peel lost the ball after making a reception and Shaky Smithson unsuccessfully tried to scoop it up.
Asiata had the other Utah fumble later in the quarter.
San Jose State capitalized on the second turnover. The Spartans went on to knot the score with 12:02 remaining in the half after a 2-yard touchdown run by Brandon Rutley.
Utah had an opportunity to respond relatively quickly, but a 50-yard field goal attempt by kicker Ben Vroman fell well short of the uprights. So, too, was a 53-yarder in the closing seconds of the half.
Another chance to take the lead was thwarted less than two minutes earlier. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, a pass from Asiata to a wide open Cain in the end zone was incomplete.
Vroman's woes continued early in the third quarter when a 36-yard attempt was wide left. Phillips came off the bench to kick Utah's extra points and a field goal down the stretch.
EXTRA POINTS: The attendance was 23,684 … Utah's defense opened the season with 14 consecutive third-down stops (including the Utah State game) before allowing San Jose State to convert on one in the second quarter … Defensive end Koa Misi, who missed the opener against USU with a back injury, started for the Utes … Left guard Caleb Schlauderaff was pulled from the game for precautionary reasons in the first quarter with a sore knee . . . Asiata had 79 yards rushing in the first half … Linebacker Mike Wright intercepted a pass on the game's final play.
e-mail: [email protected]