PK: Utes Clear Another Barrier By Blowing Out Oregon State

Oct 1, 2022, 4:30 PM
Utah Utes Football vs. Oregon State...
Utah Utes players honor two former players, Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, just before the start of the fourth quarter as Utah and Oregon State play at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. Utah won 42-16. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – As the prohibitive favorite to win the Pac-12, Utah can look at the nine conference games as individual obstacles to hurdle along the way toward achieving the primary goal.

Having already conquered the first round with ease by drilling Arizona State last week, the Utes cleared the latest barrier against Oregon State. The Beavers provided a stiffer test for a while, but ultimately the Utes prevailed 42-16 on a gorgeous fall Saturday afternoon before a crowd of 51,729 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The Utes have an interesting balancing act this season, staying in the moment while at the same time understanding anything less than playing in the Pac-12 championship game in two months is a major disappointment. Taking it a step further, a successful run through 10 games, counting the championship in Las Vegas, could lead to a berth in the four-team national playoff.

There we go again, looking way into the future. Can’t get too far ahead, not with the obstacles that await.

Even the boss can’t help himself, though.

“If you want to try and win a championship you’ve got to get better week after week after week,” said coach Kyle Whittingham.

Since losing the season-opener at Florida, Utah has had little trouble rolling through the following three games against Southern Utah, San Diego State, and ASU. Thanks to the defense led by cornerback Clark Phillips, whose three interceptions included a 38-yard touchdown return, Utah turned back an Oregon State team done in by self-inflicted wounds.

One week after throwing four interceptions in a three-point loss to USC, the Beavers again couldn’t stop giving away the football. In addition to the interceptions by Phillips, safety R.J. Hubert thwarted a potential Oregon State touchdown with a pick in Utah’s end zone late in the third quarter that would have closed the deficit to five points.

Hubert intercepted backup quarterback Ben Gulbranson’s pass and returned it 70 yards. The Utes then needed only two plays to extend their lead to an insurmountable 19 points.

Phillips’ first interception set up Utah’s first touchdown, which came on Cam Rising’s 19-yard pass to Jaylen Dixon. His third pick came in Utah’s end zone with the game already out of reach midway through the fourth quarter.

“Defense gave us big plays,” Whittingham said. “If you intercept four footballs you’re going to win most of the time.”

Give the Beavers credit for at least managing to scare Utah into the second half. The Utes needed some competition after not having it the last month.

The path to the grand prize is about to get much more difficult, starting next week with the Pac-12 early season surprise. Finally, in Chip Kelly’s fifth season as coach, UCLA is a legitimate threat to beat Utah.

The Utes own a five-game winning streak over UCLA, last losing in 2015. Utah has won by an average of 46-20 over the span.

With fifth-year quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson leading the way, the Bruins have stormed out of the gate at 5-0. Friday’s impressive win over previously unbeaten Washington has virtually guaranteed UCLA a spot in the upcoming national rankings.

“Big test next week,” Whittingham said. “Bruins are playing outstanding. Got to go down there. (UCLA) got a win (Friday) against Washington, so we’ve got our hands full. Another barometer to see where we’re at. I think this football team took another step forward this week.”

Staying with the Los Angeles theme, the sixth-ranked USC Trojans are Salt Lake City-bound in two weeks. The winner of that game, which could feature two top 10 teams, likely will be a favorite to land one of the two spots in the conference championship game.

But remember, don’t get ahead of yourself.

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PK: Utes Clear Another Barrier By Blowing Out Oregon State