PK: Utes’ Win Over USC Was Most Exciting In Program History

Oct 15, 2022, 11:45 PM
Clark Phillips - Utah vs. USC...
(Photo courtesy of Deseret News)
(Photo courtesy of Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – The stage was set, given all the ramifications, for Utah’s most important game since joining the Pac-12 over a decade ago.

And, my goodness, did the Utes ever deliver before a record crowd of 54,609 at Rice-Eccles Stadium and a national television audience on FOX. They made it all the better by winning in stunning fashion, causing many in the stadium to swarm the players on the field after the game.

Seventh-ranked USC, looked like the powerhouse teams of glory years gone by, brought that familiar swagger of old into town for a huge matchup in a game that for once started in sunlight. The magnetic Lincoln Riley, fresh off a 55-10 record during five seasons at Oklahoma, is the new version of Pete Carroll, the hipster full-of-life architect for the beatdowns USC usually administered during most of his nine years coaching the illustrious program.

Riding the wave of the immediate eligibility of transfers, the 39-year-old Riley has the Trojans rolling in his first season on the West Coast. Suffice to say, the advent of NIL (name, image and likeness) has been mighty kind to USC, which entered the game at 6-0.

But in the end, finally, there’s a time when the phrase money doesn’t matter is accurate. The Utes repeatedly battled back from deficits before prevailing 43-42 on Saturday night, improving to 3-1 in the conference and keeping their hope alive for making the championship game.

Mark it down as the most exciting game and win in the history of Utah’s program. Without a doubt, the Utes have never had a better victory in the Pac-12.

“That certainly has to go down as one of the most exciting games in Rice-Eccles history,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “What a performance by our football team.”

Seemingly down by 14 points nearly the entire game, the Utes didn’t take the lead for good until the final minute when Cam Rising scored on a two-point conversion to provide the final margin. The quarterback was a Rising star, putting together his best game as in Ute with 415 yards passing and two touchdowns.

But he was far from the lone star. Tight end Dalton Kincaid had a staggering 15 receptions for an incredible 217 yards, both of which are incredible for a team built on the run game.

“He can do it all,” said Rising. “We’ve got to make sure we get him the ball.”

Contributions abounded for many players, including two who didn’t step foot on the field. The Utes honored the late Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, who both died within months of each other.

Utah’s helmets had each player’s number – they both had No. 22. The mothers of both players attended the game and were recognized during a timeout.

“How rewarding to be able to give those mothers the game ball in the locker room after the game,” Whittingham said.

It also had to be rewarding to send USC to its first conference loss under Riley in what was likely the team’s last visit to Salt Lake City. USC and UCLA have one more season in the conference before defecting to the Big Ten.

There’s a reason the likes of star quarterback Caleb Williams ventured west with Riley, as did receiver Mario Williams. Same goes for college football’s reigning Biletnikoff Award winner, Jordan Addison, and running back Travis Dye, who transferred from Pittsburgh and Oregon, respectively.

No wonder USC has gone from 4-8 last season, which was the program’s worst record since 1991, to undefeated through seven games. The talent boost is obvious, but there’s far more to the story.

Whittingham saw it coming a mile away. He predicted as much as soon as the NCAA approved the NIL money-making ability for college athletes.

“I’m not accusing anyone of illegal improprieties or anything like that because it’s above board now with NIL, but as I said before, there’s going to come a time in the very, very near future where the top 25 NIL pots of money are going to mirror exactly the top 25 teams in the country,” Whittingham said in the week leading up to the USC game.

“That’s just how it is. That’s where it’s heading and there’s no debate about it unless they change the rules. I don’t think they can backpedal now with the can of worms they’ve opened.”

The pay-for-play rule, which essentially is the reality even as if the NCAA prefers otherwise, has worried Whittingham to a degree. In recent interviews, he has said Utah is behind the times with players making money off NIL deals.

For now, let the Trojans get rich. The Utes got what they wanted, anyway.

“It’s just a joy to coach this football team,” Whittingham said.

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PK: Utes’ Win Over USC Was Most Exciting In Program History