Finally, the Utah Utes have their first Pac-12 victory.
After struggling mightily in their first four outings against members of their new conference, the Utes broke with a win over lowly Oregon State.
Star running back John White helped the Utes sprint out to a 24-0 lead at halftime, and the Utes eventually emerged with a 27-8 win Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Here are five keys to Utah’s victory:
1. FINAU WREACKS HAVOC ON THE BEAVERS
Utah’s defense individually and collectively played well against the Beavers, but nobody was better than defensive lineman Tevita Finau.
He had a field day.
Finau got in the backfield over and over and over again, constantly putting pressure on Oregon QB Sean Mannion, who wound up throwing three interceptions.
Finau finished with three sacks — one and a half in the first half and one and a half in the second half — and was just terrific throughout.
2. UTE DEFENSE SHUTS DOWN THE RUN
Finau and friends did a fantastic job of stuffing Oregon State’s rushing attack throughout, and that helped everything else.
Oregon State had virtually no success rushing the ball in the first half or second half, forcing Mannion to take to the air.
He had a tiny bit of success throwing the ball, but it was all tough sledding because the Beavers couldn’t move the ball on the ground.
All told, the Utes held Oregon State to just 32 rushing yards on 26 carries.
3. JOHN WHITE IV REIGNS IN 1ST HALF
The Utes gave the ball to White in the first half, and he sure delivered — and then some.
Intent on establishing the run with the junior tailback, Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow put the ball in White’s hands over and over again in the first two quarters, and he picked up big gain after big gain to get the Utes going.
White rushed for 161 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries in the opening half, and he was the driving force behind Utah’s offense.
All told, White finished the game with 205 yards and a TD on 35 carries.
4. UTES AVOID MAJOR TURNOVER TROUBLES
Utah’s turnover struggles have been incredibly well documented, but the Utes did a very nice job of avoiding such problems against Oregon State.
Utah quarterback Jon Hays didn’t throw any interceptions, Utah’s other players largely secured the ball and the Utes won the turnover battle, 4-1.
Winning the turnover battle — and not giving it the other team over and over again — was a huge part of Utah’s win Saturday.
5. UTES CAPITALIZE ON MOMENTUM IN 1ST HALF
Utah had been clinging to a 3-0 lead midway through the second quarter when opportunities presented themselves to the Utes to take control of the game.
To their credit, they took full advantage.
Hays found Dres Anderson for a 35-yard TD strike to push Utah’s advantage to 10-0 with 7:04 remaining in the half, White scored four minutes later to make it 17-0 and DeVonte Christopher caught a 3-yard TD pass from Hays with 24 seconds to go to put Utah on its way to victory.
When Oregon State’s defense made adjustments in the second half and started to shut down Utah, that big cushion proved to be invaluable.